No insurance increase expected at Alton Central


December 01, 2009
ALTON — District officials provided the Alton School Board with unexpected and encouraging news on health insurance during its Nov. 23 meeting.

Updating the board on the status of the budget for the 2011 fiscal year, Superintendent Kathy Holt announced that she had recently received paperwork from School Care (the district's health insurance provider) promising no increase in rates next year.

Joking that she didn't believe her eyes at first, since many insurance companies have been raising their rates by as much as 12 to 28 percent, Holt said School Care had confirmed that there will be no increase.

Business Administrator Kathy O'Blenes was asked to reduce the amount budgeted for health insurance next year accordingly, she added.

"This is really great news," board Chairwoman Terri Noyes said, with other board members voicing their relief, as well.

Preliminary Warrant articles

Presenting the board with a rough draft of Article I on next year's school district Warrant (the election of district officers), Holt asked for any ideas board members might have for proposals they would like to see on the Warrant.

The list of preliminary articles, she said, includes the FY11 budget; requests for the Buildings and Grounds Expendable Trust Fund and the capital reserve fund created last year to cover the cost of unanticipated utility expenses; the pending teacher's contract, and a companion article authorizing the board to hold a special district meeting if the contract fails; and whatever articles the Prospect Mountain board brings forward.

The district, she added, also has two longstanding reserve funds that are currently empty, and should be dissolved (a process requiring the approval of voters).

Commenting that the board had always talked about rolling a portion of the district's end-of-year fund balance into a capital reserve fund for a "building project," but had never taken action on the idea, Vice Chair Jeff St. Cyr suggested that it might be time to give the proposal serious thought.

Board member Maureen Smith agreed that the idea was worth looking into.

The board plans to discuss next year's Warrant in greater detail during its next meeting.

State considering building aid cuts

With the state Legislature considering cuts in school building aid as a cost-saving measure, St. Cyr (who also serves as a state representative) said last week that district officials recently answered 'Yes' to a one-question survey from the New Hampshire School Board Association asking whether they had a building project on the docket.

Responding to resident Steve Parker's concerns about whether state aid would be available within the next few years, St. Cyr explained that the study committee appointed by the House to investigate the matter won't release its final report until November of next year, moving any formal vote on the proposal well into 2011.

Holt added that building aid is, in essence, an agreement between the state and individual school districts and, like other informal agreements (such as retirement benefits for town employees, which the state recently cut its share of), is subject to change at any time.

New writing program approved

Director of Instruction Sydney Leggett appeared before the board last week seeking approval for a new writing program aimed at creating consistency at all grade levels.

After examining four different programs in depth, Leggett said, the staff ultimately recommended Write Source, a program associated with the Institute for Excellence in Writing that begins teaching students basic skills such as sentence structure in Kindergarten, and helps them develop those skills through middle school.

With no consistent program in place at the moment, Leggett said her hope is that Write Source will help teachers develop a K-8 curriculum and a standard rubric for assessing students' writing skills.

"The goal is to come to a common playing field," Principal Bonnie Jean Kuras added.

Explaining that she felt the $10,500 currently available in her department's budget for new programming would be enough to outfit the entire school with Write Source materials, Leggett said the program would also provide students with a solid foundation in writing that will make their transition into high school smoother.

The board voted unanimously to approve the new program for implementation during the current school year.

High school credit policy discussed

St. Cyr and Holt sparked an extensive discussion last week with a proposed policy for awarding high school credit to students who successfully complete Algebra I or a high school-level Spanish course during their eighth grade year.

Under the suggested policy, St. Cyr explained, the grade the student received for the course would be listed on their transcript, and it would be up to the principal at Prospect Mountain High School (or any other high school, if the student moved out of the district) to decide whether or not to grant credit.

"Wouldn't I, as a parent, assume that my child would get a credit at Prospect Mountain?" board member Sandy Wyatt asked, questioning the notion of leaving the decision in the hands of the principal.

Kuras agreed, adding that it would be incumbent on school administrators to make parents fully aware of what the policy stated.

Smith said she would not feel comfortable voting on the proposed policy until the board had seen what sort of proposal the high school Policy Committee brings forward regarding eighth grade credit.

St. Cyr suggested, however, that the district needed to have something in place so that current eighth grade students "don't miss out" on the credits that were awarded to the class ahead of them, and that might be offered to the class behind them.

Board member Lynda Gossens voiced her concern that awarding numerical credits to current eighth grade students might impact grade point averages, and lead to an increase in early graduations (which the Prospect Mountain JMA board has been trying to curb).

St. Cyr argued that if JMA board members were truly concerned about the rise in early graduation requests, they should not have decreased the number of semesters students are required to attend Prospect Mountain in order to be eligible for graduation.

Explaining the rationale behind the proposed policy, Holt said she felt that if eighth grade students were given course credits that did not count toward their GPA, they would essentially not be held to the same level of accountability as their counterparts at the high school.

"I agree that if they do the work, they should get the credit," Wyatt commented.

Leggett compared the course credit dilemma faced by the high school Policy Committee to the situation facing colleges, which have cut back on their acceptance of Advanced Placement credits in recent years because they want incoming freshmen to take the first-year classes that lay the groundwork for what the school expects of them.

"I can see the same thing happening in high schools," she said.

Holt said the state Department of Education itself is currently examining the question of whether students should be kept in line with their classmates or allowed to move forward at an accelerated rate.

While other countries have adopted the stance that students should be permitted to move ahead of the pack if they feel ready to, she explained, the United States has tended to take the opposite view, preferring to see its students move in "lock step" with one another.

On a motion from St. Cyr, the board voted unanimously to approve the first draft of the policy, which must go through two additional readings before final approval.

Rachel's Challenge returns

Kuras announced during her bi-weekly report to the board that by popular demand, the first phase of Rachel's Challenge (a two-year program founded in memory of Columbine High School shooting victim Rachel Scott that encourages students to take a stand against violence and intolerance) will be returning to the Alton Central School during a special assembly on Friday, Dec. 18, from 8 to 9 a.m.

Odds and ends

In other business, the board voted to approve its list of goals for the 2009-10 school year; approved a plan to bring administrative services for the district's 403(b) retirement plan in-house, saving roughly $1,500; tentatively approved a five-year transportation bid from First Student, pending verification of the numbers; approved a new staff evaluation proposal; and voted, with Goossens abstaining, to accept federal stimulus funds in support of an after-school tutoring program for Title I students.

Next meeting

The board's next meeting has been scheduled for Monday, Dec. 14, at 6 p.m. in the middle school library.

Brendan Berube can be reached at 569-3126 or bberube@salmonpress.com

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