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Winnisquam budget, teacher's contract pass

Retiring school board member Wayne Murray receives a plaque from Board Chairman Jasen Stock during Saturday's School District Meeting. (Photo by Leigh Sharps) (click for larger version)
March 27, 2019
TILTON—Veteran Moderator Kent Finemore remarked at the end of the Winnisquam Regional School District's Annual Meeting Saturday that the three hour and 40 minute affair was about "standard," despite the fact that it took voters an hour and a half to pass the operating budget and another hour to pass the teacher/employee salary contracts.

A total of 149 voters from the three towns turned out last Saturday morning to debate and vote on eight articles (44 voters from Sanbornton, 61 from Northfield and 44 from Tilton).

The meeting began with an uplifting and striking rendition of the National Anthem sung by the high school choir, led by Music Director Kirk Young.

After the Regional School Board was introduced, longtime Budget Chair Nina Gardner-Sanbornton, led the way explaining the budget with a power point presentation. She said the committee always strives to serve and represent all the students in the district-wide population in the three town area schools k-high school (Tilton-Northfield and Sanbornton).

However, she said, "The dynamic which is driving this budget and the increase in this budget is due to special services. Special Education needs have gone up considerably this year."

She noted three years ago the district served 259 students while this year there were 301; also, there were 10 out –of-district placements three years ago and this past year there were 23.

"It is 26 percent of the total enrollment and it has an infinite impact on the budget and of course we are obligated to supply those services," she said.

The budget as proposed was $27,708,340. Other appropriations voted on were in separate warrant articles. There are five schools in the district: Union-Sanborn, Southwick School, Sanbornton Central, Winnisquam Middle and Winnisquam High School. 2018 enrollment shows there were 199 students in Sanbornton, 211 at the Southwick School, 237 at Union-Sanborn, 356 at the middle school and 448 at the high school for a total of 1,451 students served.

Board Chair Jasen Stock explained the elementary schools have made great strides in improving state scores in the math and science areas and now will "push in the English" department area. It was noted, also, the graduation rate has "made great strides" (90 percent in 2017 and 87 percent in 2018) and the drop-out rate has been minimal (1.4 percent in 2017 and just over six tenths of a percent in 2018). Students going on to four year schools has dropped a little at 41 percent last year, however, two year attendance has increased by 19 percent as have students entering the workforce or the military.

The operating budget for FY20 was 5.84 percent over the 18-19 budget in the administrator's report, 5.14 percent above last year's by the school board's recommendation and 3.43 percent above by the budget committee. Gardner said the budget proposal was originally a million and a half before cuts were made to bring it down to the $851, 788 proposed Saturday. Last year voters passed a $26,953,654 budget.

"It was a collaborative effort and shows good policy," said Gardner. "There is a wide spectrum of student needs now we had to address to build this budget. Students come in with different backgrounds and ever changing educational needs now and all our attempts are directed at educating all the students as best we can."

Besides increases in the special education area, there were slight increases in transportation due to adding an additional school bus, reinstating a third grade teacher at Union-Sanborn and dding a teacher-integration specialist and special ed. Director. Countering those was the elimination of the Asst. Superintendent Position which ends this June, decrease in staff turnover, reduction of a K-5 data analyst and removal of a Web Master stipend. Also, there was considerable savings in employee health insurance by changing the current company to Signa Health. Gardner cited the decrease in state educational aid as one of the district's problems. It is population driven, in part, and she said the Northfield student population has dropped considerably, however, the town gets the most state aid of the three (at $92,017 in '18-'19 but only $65,267 expected for 19-20). After state aid each town needs to raise differing amounts per student each year (Northfield $8,763, Sanbornton $18,565 and Tilton 15, 170).

A resident wondered why state-mandated programs weren't all paid for by the state.

Gardner explained "We have an obligation to pay for programs. But that's a good question."

Stock explained the importance of replacing the roof at Union-Sanborn School when it came up under the operating budget (Capital improvement Plan) as it now leaks.

As for the future of the school /building, he said "We are still gathering cost estimates for that facility to bring it up to par operationally and whatever we decide to do in the future with it (close or consolidate or repair) right now we have to fix the leaking roof!" All building projects in last year's budget, he answered to another query, have all been completed (at or below budget estimates."

Roof repairs and other appropriations were passed later in the meeting.

Sanbornton resident Jennifer Holt, praised the early intervention of students at a young age as this district supplies, she said, noting "I have two daughters who received early intervention in this system and I'm proud to say, because of that, one is an honors student in college and my senior was just notified of early acceptance in the honors system at Plymouth University."

She said, if anything, "The special education department doesn't have enough help."

Her remarks received applause and the budget passed by voice vote as determined by Moderator Finemore at 10:30 a.m., after an hour and a half of discussion.

Article 2, concerning the teachers' collective bargaining three year agreement, also faced more than an hour's worth of discussion and queries. It finally went to a secret ballot vote, passing by 103-34. Teacher negotiation highlights included: Starting salaries for first year teachers was raised from $35,000 to $40,000, professional development budget increased from $110,000 to $220,000, change in health insurance carrier for significant savings ($617,000 savings for first year), a removal of steps in place of years in service and a severance cap increase (retirement) from $31,000 to $35,000.

The estimated increase of $9,456 for 2019-20 was taken out of the budget. 20-21 increase is $176,653 and 21-22 $184,420 in the third year. Estimated impact on town taxes is as follows for 2019-20: Northfield 0.01 cents, Sanbornton 0.0045 cents and Tilton 0.01 cents. The agreement objectives were to attract and retain more teachers, improve the salary line and align benefits.

After a petitioned request for a secret ballot vote Article 2 passed with 103 in favor and 34 opposed.

Article 3 passed with much less discussion for the Winnisquam paraprofessional staff (aides in special education department, pathologists, therapists, etc.) with an increase for 2019-20 at $2652,985 and in 2020-21 for $22,912. These were included in the collective bargaining agreement reached between the district board and the paraprofessionals employees union.

Article 4 passed with voters approving $450,000 to be placed in the Capital Reserve Fund-Building Renovations and repairs in accordance with the district plan. This will come from the unreserved fund balance left at the end of this fiscal year with no effect to the tax rate. Repairs and renovations completed this fiscal year included in the middle school library renovations and the gym interior skin replaced, in the Agricultural Building: repointing exterior brick wall and replacing the fire panel and district-wide: safety and security cameras, etc., replace a pitched roof, HVAC controls replaced and a second floor was added to the track shed.

Article 5 was similar, being approved to appropriate $450,000 to replace the asphalt shingle roof at the union-Sanborn school with a metal roof, replace asphalt for basketball court and perimeter road at Sanbornton Central, at the middle school replace bathroom counter tops and partitions, at the high school replace bathroom counter tops and partitions and replace original wooden windows in the 1960s wing and district wide to replace the HVAC controls (Honeywell). This, also, will come from the Capital Reserve Fund-Building Renovations and Repairs which was created for that purpose. It comes from the unreserved fund balance at the end of the year with no tax impact.

Articles 6 similarly passed, with $50,000 placed in the Special Education Capital Reserve Fund (from fund balance at end of this fiscal year).

Article 7, however, faced some opposition mainly due to the language. Kit was asking voters to approve $25,000 to put in the Technology Reserve Fund also to come from the unreserved balance that may be available at the end of the fiscal year. Budget Chair, Nina Gardner, stepped down from that position and approached the mic. as a resident (and with second thoughts on the committee) to say "how broad this article is and there is no defined plan." Two other residents expressed their opinions that the wording was vague, also, and that previously in the day's session an additional $110,000 was already placed in that fund.

The question went to voters first by raising their ballots and then the moderator asked for a hand count vote carried out by the Assistant Moderators. The vote came out 45 against and 42 for. Finemore made a motion to go to secret ballot as he thought "the vote is just too close for me." However, a motion from the floor to challenge Finemore's motion was made and voters decided to throw out the moderator's recommendation and stick with the hand vote, ultimately causing the article to fail by three votes.

The meeting ended with a few queries from the floor on basic budget questions and procedures.

Finemore adjourned the meeting on a motion at 12:42 p.m.

Varney Smith
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