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3 voters challenge WMRSD board's decision to seek CTE project now

January 29, 2014
WHITEFIELD — Former school board member Randy Boggess and "Caledonian-Record" sportswriter Arlene Allin and her husband Bill, all of Lancaster, challenged at the WMRSD school board meeting on Jan. 21 some of the fundamental assumptions that the board has used as it works to generate support to get a 3/5ths "yes" vote on March 11 to pass Article 1 to build a new Career & Technical Education (CTE) Center at WMRHS.

Boggess, who earns his living in the high-tech field, pointed out that if the school board decided not to go forward with Article 1 in March it would allow it and other stakeholders to make substantial adjustments to its course concentrations, making it more in sync with today's high-tech world and available jobs.

"You're trying to force a round peg into a square hole," Boggess said.

He urged the school board to take the time to re-align its course offerings and the facilities it needs to the Plan 2020 CTE strategy that's been adopted by multiple states and universities and to prepare its graduates for today's technical jobs and college.

Both he and Allin described maple sugaring as a hobby craft that is part of the region's culture and not a career-oriented skill.

School board member Mollie White, a business resource manager at the Northern Community Investment Corp.'s Lancaster office, said that she had checked out the North Country Council's regional job outlook for the next 20 years as well as state and national projections and had been satisfied that the CTE offerings are appropriate.

"Although there could be another mix, it looks like where we are is just fine," White said, noting, however, that she believes that greater emphasis should be given to students learning how to read a profit-and-loss statement and developing communication skills.

Arlene Allin said that she believes that the school board has been wrong in its repeated assertion that should the CTE project fail to pass voter muster in March it would go to the end of the funding line — a.k.a. queue — behind all other schools eligible to update their CTE facilities.

"You're misleading the public," Allin said.

She explained that she had spoken directly with Lisa Danley, an administrator in the CTE and Adult Learning Division of the state Department of Education (NHDOE), who read her a state administrative rule that indicates that the school board has been wrong.

Although chairman Greg Odell and members Peter Riviere and Rep. Herb Richardson were upset with Allin's implication that they have been deliberately misleading the public, the board agreed it would make every effort to get a prompt clarification from NHDOE.

Both White and Jim Brady pointed out, however, that no matter how the rule reads, they would not be in favor of delaying the CTE project.

Right now, $13.5 million of state capital project dollars is earmarked for WMRHS' CTE project, representing 75 percent of its total cost, including a pellet-burning plant to heat the building and new CTE furnishings and equipment. Gov. Maggie Hassan's signature is on the capital project's list.

The percentage of reimbursement in the future would be too low, putting any CTE project out of the District's reach, Brady said. Salem is only getting 60 percent reimbursement for its project, which, he said, will almost certainly be the norm in the future.

Commissioner of Education Virginia Barry, Ph.D., sent a letter on Thursday, Jan. 23, to District 1 state Senator Jeff Woodburn, clarifying the two questions he raised, in line with a request by the WMRSD school board: the status of the capital budget funds and WMRHS's order in the "queue."

"The NH Legislature approved FY 14-15 Capital Budget includes two CTE renovation projects: Whitefield for $13,500,000 and Salem for $10,775,000," Barry writes. "Either of these projects can move forward with state funding upon a positive local vote in March of 2014.

"Capital budget allocations are in place for the life of the biennium (July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2015).

"The Department can request that unexpended funds be carried forward into the following biennium. $13.5M was allocated last year to the Whitefield Project with the expectation that the project would get started following a favorable March of 2014 local vote.

"If Whitefield's vote fails in 2014, any action to carry forward monies beyond this year would need to be determined by the Legislature."

On the issue of WMRHS's place in the queue, Barry writes, "Below is the excerpt from NH Administrative Rules as it relates to the order of renovation. . . . If a district chooses not to move forward with renovation when their turn arises, then the department moves down the list to the next center. However, the center that has passed on its opportunity is not removed from their place on the list, they are simply passed over for that budget cycle.

"At the next opportunity (typically the next biennial budget submission), the department will again work with them to determine whether renovation is feasible."

This is the Rule: "Ed 1404.11 Criteria for Priority of Final Construction Project and Final Plan Approval. The commissioner of the department shall use the following criteria for determining the priority of final construction project and final plan approval."

Twenty-four CTE centers are listed on Table 1404-2, which Barry included in her letter. "The opening date of the regional center as set forth in Table 1404-2 …shall be the determining factor in assigning priority in proposed legislation under Ed 1404.06(b), Barry notes.

WMRHS is listed with an opening date of Fall 1985, making it the 14th to open in N. H.

Only one CTE center that has an earlier opening date has not been yet had state funds approved: Plymouth Applied Technology Center in Plymouth that opened in the Fall 1983.

Both the next regular school board meeting and the First Deliberative Session in the SB-2 District are scheduled at 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 3, at WMRHS.

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