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Discussion at Shaker deliberative session turns unexpectedly to Gale School

Shaker Regional School District's new superintendent, Michael Tursi, addressed the crowd of voters from Belmont and Canterbury who attended last Wednesday's First Deliberative Session. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
February 15, 2017
BELMONT — Shaker Regional School District officials held their first ever SB2 Deliberative Session last Wednesday evening after district voters approved the change to an SB2 format rather than an annual district meeting last March.

What was actually contained in the brief 2017 warrant presented last week didn't seem to be as important to many, however, as what was not on the warrant when the greatest topic of discussion was the historic Gale School.

Belmont's Gale School now sits vacant behind the middle school and SAU offices in Belmont Village, but in 1898, it was built to be a central location for Belmont students to get a start on their early education.

Over many decades of use the district outgrew the Gale School's resources and the building was found to be in need of many repairs. In the 1980s and '90s a new elementary school and high school were constructed and the former high school became the middle school. Gale School was then left with no purpose other than cold storage for the district.

In recent years, the district has lost interest in the building it still owns, but attempts to tear the Gale School down have been thwarted by those who value it for its unique architecture and historic significance to the Town of Belmont.

At the district's 2016 annual meeting, the Save the Gale School Committee was challenged to raise funds and arrange for the means to move the building when efforts to tear it down were overturned by voters.

Woody Fogg, who is not a member of the committee, pointed out last week that the $71,000 approved in 2016 to move the Gale School does not appear in the district's 2017-18 operating budget. Questioning why, he added that those funds could easily been made available through the unexpended fund balance.

"When we had the change to SB2 last year we decided not to do anything about the Gale School this year," explained Sean Embree, chair of the school board.

The change to SB2, the board explained, forced them to place the Gale School on the back burner for coming year, which will now give committee members an extra year to work on the project.

Fogg and Gale School supporters argued time is being wasted though, since they cannot solicit funds for the building without a clear title.

"You're putting the Gale School Committee on the spot," Fogg said. "You wanted (the committee) to do something and they did. Now you have to honor that."

The committee, he said, has achieved a nonprofit status and has donors lined up to contribute to the future of the building. They won't do so however until the school board meets their end of the bargain by signing over the building and providing the promised funds for the move.

Fogg and others went on to argue that $71,000 was approved by voters of the district last year to move the school to a lot on Concord Street, but it did not show up as a line item on this year's budget.

"We can't even apply for a grant because we're still not the owners," said Diane Marden, a leader of the Gale School Committee. "We've done our part. We need it in our name so we can entertain any grants."

Attorney James O'Shaughnessey and Superintendent Michael Tursi said they would look into the matter. In the meantime, Gale School Committee members were encouraged to continue their mission and meet with the school board over the coming months

In the end, the proposed operating budget of $22,475,634, as approved by both the board and voters at the deliberative session, was moved forward as written and will be up for a final vote on March 14.

Other articles that district voters will be asked to consider next month will be a Collective Bargaining Agreement for teachers along with $75,000 to be added to the Facilities and Grounds Expendable Trust Fund and another $10,000 for the Technology Expendable Trust. Monies for those articles will be derived from the district's unexpended fund balance on June 30 and have no impact on local taxes.

Details on all the articles are available at the SAU Offices and also on line at www.sau80.org.

Final warrant articles request authorization for voters to be allowed to cast their ballots for the district in both Belmont and Canterbury, and there is also a request to reverse last year's decision to operate under SB2 deliberative procedures and return to a public district meeting.

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