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School district warrant unchanged at Deliberative Session

Contributions of three men over the past three decades celebrated

OUTGOING Governor Wentworth Regional School District board members Jim Rines (left0 and Don Meader (center) and retiring Superintendent of Schools Jack Robertson display the Kingswood shirts they were given in recognition of their combined 69 years of service. Rines and Meader also received a frame aerial photo of the new Kingswood campus and Robertson received a clock with a quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson. (Heather Terragni photo) (click for larger version)
February 07, 2013
WOLFEBORO — Sixty-nine years of accumulated experience will soon be lost to the Governor Wentworth Regional School District, district Moderator Randy Walker explained at last Saturday's Deliberative Session. Come March school board members James Rines and Donald Meader, who have both chosen not to seek reelection, will leave vacant seats on the board only to be followed by the retirement of Superintendent Jack Robertson at the end of the school year.

A brief presentation recognizing each of the three men offered a glimpse into all they have done for the district over the years.

"It's unusual for a school district to have the advantage we've had for so long in many years of dedicated service from such fine quality people as Don, Jim and Jack…many lives have been enriched because of your contributions," said School Board Chair Stacy Trites.

Of Robertson, who is wrapping up a 20-year career with the district – seven as assistant superintendent and 13 as superintendent –Trites noted that during his tenure, "each building has undergone a major renovation or has been built under his guidance."

"Jack is an exceptionally skilled leader under which the district has thrived. Jack has a special gift in the way that he is able to bring people together. The board, the community and staff will all sorely miss him."

Meader, who has served 27 years on the board over a span of 29 years and Rines who is completing his 22nd year will also be largely missed by the board and administration.

"Don and Jim have provided much valuable expertise and insightful leadership on school board operations and many matters over the years. Their presence on the board will be greatly missed by all of us," said Trites of the men who have seen the board through many transitions.

Each man received two gifts from the board, aerial photos of the new Kingswood complex and Kingswood t-shirts for Meader and Rines and a clock inscribed with a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson as well as a t-shirt for Robertson.

In a state of the school report Trites mentioned the completion of the Kingswood complex project as the past year's highlight brought to fruition with a ribbon cutting ceremony and celebration over homecoming weekend.

Since then she said that, "teachers and administrators have quickly taken advantage of the new spaces to provide more educational opportunities for students." Because of this participation in the theater program has increased significantly, the physical education department has broadened its curriculum to include electives such as yoga, dance, sport and exercise psychology, and personal weight training, and math and English assistance has been made available to students in any grade upon request without special planning.

Though she admitted that test scores are only one small indicator of achievement Trites noted that Kingswood should be proud in that it holds one of the highest school completion rates in the state, being close to 100 percent.

Trites went on to list many significant accomplishments that have happened at all of the district's schools over the year in the areas of art, volunteer-work, sports, after school clubs and other extra-curriculars.

Four very talented high school girls sang a beautiful rendition of the national anthem before the school district warrant articles were read. Raistlin Bittues, Julia Coughlin, Calysta Jacobs and Stacey Kelleher gave a notable a cappella performance that was deserving of the ovation it got.

The warrant articles

Article I deals with the election of school board members and the district moderator.

There are four seats on the board that are in question this March, including two contested races and two uncontested.

New Durham residents Julianne Cardinal and Ellen Phillips are both seeking to represent New Durham for a two-year term. Incumbent Diane Drelick is running unopposed for the Effingham seat, a three-year term, and Conner MacIver is running uncontested for the Ossipee seat being vacated by Rines (his grandfather, Don Meader, will be leaving a member-at-large seat on the board). Ernie Brown of Brookfield, who has served on the board in previous years and Tuftonboro's Andrew Shagoury are vying for the member at-large position.

Randy Walker is again running for school district Moderator.

Article II, III and IV are all very similar and passed by without concern except for one comment regarding how the figures were determined.

Board member Charlene Seibel spoke of these three articles all of which were recommended by the board.

Article II - To approve the cost items included in the collective bargaining agreement reached between the board and the Governor Wentworth Administrative Team which calls for no increase for fiscal year 2014, but a two percent wage increase for both fiscal years 2015 and 2016.

"We have an accomplished and dedicated group of administrators," began Seibel who added that they "were the first group to step up [a couple years ago] when the budget was tight and the economy was at a lull. For two years they volunteered to forgo the raise we had already approved for them to help offset this waive of cost shifting dealt from the state to local districts."

This article seeks a two-year extension of the current collective bargaining agreement with the administrators thru the 2016 school year and covers 15 full time administrators and seven part time positions, she explained. The agreement has no impact on next year's wages or on the proposed fiscal year 2014 budget and there are no other changes to the contract.

"The settlement is below the current Consumer Price Index (CPI) projected growth rate and the impact of this settlement is less than a penny on the tax rate in each of the two contract years."

Article III – To approve the cost items included in the collective bargaining agreement reached between the school board and the Governor Wentworth Support Staff Association which calls for no increase for fiscal year 2014, but a two percent wage increase for both fiscal year 2015 and 2016.

This article is also a two-year extension of the current contract and offers no other changes, said Seibel. Support staff positions, of which there are currently about 235, include paraprofessionals, clerical staff, bus drivers, custodians and food service workers

Again the settlement has no impact on this year's proposed budget, but provides these employees with a two percent wage increase in fiscal year 2015 and 2016. It has less than a two-cent impact on the tax rates for each of the contract years.

Article IV – To approve the cost items included in the collective bargaining agreement reached between the board and the Governor Wentworth Education Association which calls for no increase for fiscal year 2014, but a 1.5 percent wage increase for both fiscal year 2015 and 2016.

"Within any school district the quality of the teaching staff has the greatest impact on pupil learning," said Seibel. "In Governor Wentworth we are grateful to have so many fine teachers to interact with our children. It's important that we keep them."

She explained that the teachers also very graciously went without five days of salary that they were entitled to in order to help the district manage the state's cost shifting a few years back.

Like the two before this article provides for a two-year extension of the current collective bargaining agreement with no other changes. The settlement covers about 251 teachers and yields a wage increase, which is less than the current rate of inflation. Seibel explained that adoption of this article would create about a six-cent increase on the tax rate in both fiscal years 2015 and 2016.

It was then that David Bickford of New Durham questioned how the wage increases for 2015 and 2016 were determined.

"How did you come to the conclusion so far out that that was the amount of money that needed to be spent on raises," he asked.

In response Seibel shared that Governor Wentworth's average wages generally amount to be similar to the state average.

Last year the average wage for N.H. teachers was $53,702 and Governor Wentworth average teacher salary was $54,561.

We're in the middle of the pact which is where we want to be...paying too much is a waste of taxpayer money while paying too little will likely result in an inferior staff," she said.

The amounts in each of the three settlements are determined to the best ability of the board and "keep us in that position."

Article V – To establish a Capital Reserve Fund for the purpose of repairing or replacing the artificial turf field located on the Kingswood campus and to raise and appropriate the sum of $60,000 to be placed in this fund. The sum shall come from the June 30, 2013 fund balance and no amount shall be raised from taxation.

Board member Diane Drelick explained that because an artificial turf field has a life expectancy of around 12 years with a replacement cost of between $700,000 - $750,000 the board would like to save up for this eventual expense.

"Rather then wait for that day to come and have the district get hit with a large expense, the board is advocating for the district to establish a specific capital reserve account to be funded with money which may be left over at the end of the school year."

The cap on the amount of the unreserved fund balance to be put away would not exceed $60,000 for this year. If approved and a reserve is established Drelick said voters would likely see a similar article in subsequent years.

"We believe this is a prudent way to ensure that a district asset with a known typical lifespan can be restored without breaking the bank. Taking care of district assets in a timely fashion is the best way to keep cost down over the long haul."

Article VI – To raise and appropriate $150,000 for repairs and improvements of the district's grounds and buildings.

"Our buildings and grounds represent a large investment on the part of our taxpayers," explained board member Jim Rines.

With assets valued around $121,000,000 the "capital improvements budget protects our investment and provides our students with a safe, healthy and comfortable atmosphere."

Some items accomplished over the last year included tiling classroom floors and corridors in Tuftonboro Central School, replacing a section of roof at New Durham Elementary School, installing a sidewalk at Effingham school, and repairing stairs at Ossipee Central School.

Some anticipated projects for the coming year Rines shared include boiler control upgrades at both Ossipee and Effingham schools, new tiling at Tuftonboro, new doors at Carpenter to increase security, and servicing of an underground fuel storage tank that needs to be cleaned and assessed for repairs.

"This article is our only resource to do major repair work at our buildings," said Rines and equates to spending $426 to do repairs on a home valued at $250,000.

Bickford asked to what extent the district finds itself dipping into its contingency fund to take care of unexpected repairs once the $150,000 is exhausted.

To this it was explained that the district doesn't have a contingency fund except for during a building project. Each year $150,000 is budgeted based on the board's experience over the last several years that it's provided this warrant article.

Additionally Andrew Shagoury of Tuftonboro asked why the $150,000 wasn't just included in the budget since it is an annual warrant article?

Rines replied that as a warrant article the district has more flexibility in asking for what they anticipate is needed and provides the voters the opportunity to decide if they approve of the amount.

Superintendent Robertson added that in years past when the amount was included in the budget people questioned why it wasn't presented as a separate warrant article.

Proposed operating budget for fiscal year 2014

The last of the articles, number VII, covers the proposed operating budget for the 2013-14 school year.

Shall the Governor Wentworth Regional School District raise and appropriate as an operating budget, not including appropriations by warrant articles, totaling $47,176,610?

For the third time in just as few months Jack Widmer presented a very thorough explanation of what the operating budget entails and how it will impact the district's taxpayers as well as how it relates to other N.H. districts.

"In preparing the budget we are very aware of the economic situations in the United States and in particular here in N.H. We recognize our responsibility as a school board to do the best we can for our students while staying within the financial means of our citizens."

"Consequently," he added, "we are committed to keeping our increase within the growth of the CPI."

Even with a steep hike in the N.H. retirement system rates the proposed operating budget if approved in March would only see an increase of 1.37 percent.

If both the building and maintenance article ($150,000) and the artificial turf article ($60,000) are approved the total overall budget will increase by 1.43 percent or $665,895.

Again here Shagoury questioned why the $150,000 maintenance article was kept separate. He asked for clarification as to what falls under the proposed $313,890 repairs and maintenance line item in the budget versus the $150,00 warrant article and said that having both is misleading the true cost of maintaining the district.

The warrant article Widmer explained, is for unanticipated projects outside the scope of regular yearly maintenance where the line item is used for smaller daily repairs and upkeep.

A second Tuftonboro resident suggested the district include the amount in future budgets and have a contingency fund for unanticipated costs beyond that.

This was not an idea the board seemed willing to do at this time. Robertson later clarified that because this is an SB-2 district the operating budget in turn operates a default budget.

"If that were to become part of the default our voters would never again have a say as to whether or not they want to do that or not."

By keeping it a separate article district voters are able to question it and amend as they see fit.

With no further questions the deliberating session was adjourned.

This meeting can be viewed in its entirety at wolfeborocommunitytelevision.com.

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