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School district Deliberative Session the shortest ever

LINING THE HALLWAY on the way into the GWRSD Deliberative Session last Saturday morning were posters representing each of the district’s schools, showing students working hard and enjoying various activities during a typical school day. (Heather Terragni photo) (click for larger version)
February 04, 2010
WOLFEBORO — According to Attorney Barbara Loughman, Governor Wentworth Regional School District's attorney, no district compares to Governor Wentworth when it comes to holding an efficient, well-thought-out Deliberative Session. Held last Saturday morning, Jan. 30, in the Kingswood Regional High School auditorium, board members and SAU 49 administration convened with approximately 20 interested citizens, in what may have been the quickest deliberative session the district has seen yet, concluding in little over one hour.

The purpose of this annual meeting, as explained by Moderator Randy Walker, was to vote on the form of each warrant article proposed by the district, not the substance, which is ultimately voted on in March. After hearing a beautiful rendition of the national an-them, sung by the high school's own Route 28 a cappella group, and a favorable State of the Schools address spoken by School Board Chair Jim Rines, the board introduced each of the six warrant articles proposed for inclusion on the ballot for March vote.

A seventh article, the first on the ballot, pertains to the candidate seats that will be voted on this year, of which there are four: school board member from Effingham (three-year term), school board member from Ossipee (three-year term), school board member-at-large (three-year term) and school district moderator (one-year term). With the filing period officially over, there is only one contested seat and that is for the Effingham repre-sentative to the school board. For this position, incumbent Diane Drelick will run against fellow Effingham resident, Bill Piekut. Jim Rines and Donald Meader are running unop-posed for school board member from Ossipee and member-at-large respectively. Later, at a school board meeting held on Feb. 1, Rines urged voters to understand that they should vote for all positions, not just those corresponding to the town in which they reside.

It wasn't until the session reached Article IV, regarding the approval of a one-year ex-tension of the collective bargaining agreement between the board and the Governor Wentworth Education Association, that any member of the audience voiced a question. The collective bargaining agreement, which calls for no increase in the wage scale and no changes in the benefits provided in the current agreement, spurred on a question by Wolfeboro resident Suzanne Ryan. Ryan asked what the result would be if voters didn't understand this article and voted it down in March. Superintendent Jack Robertson an-swered that if this was the case, the contract would not be extended and the school board and education association would resume negotiating a contract for the following year. Robertson explained that the current agreement doesn't end until June 2011 so there would still be time for vote next March on another proposal.

Cathy Orlowicz, a resident of New Durham, asked for clarification regarding how cost-of-living increases would be effected by the contract. In his introduction to the article, school board member Jack Widmer stated that the contract would not include cost of liv-ing increases, whereas the article language reads, "if approved, the terms of this collec-tive bargaining agreement, including the pay plan, but excluding cost of living increases, will continue in force and effect…" Robertson assured the audience that there are actu-ally no cost of living increases in the collective bargaining agreements anyway, but rather language is included in the warrant article that is recommended by the Department of Education.

The only other comments from the public came at the end of the session from Ryan and from Gordon Lang of Ossipee. Ryan recommended that the board add language to the end of warrant Articles II and III explaining to voters that there would be no negative effect on the tax rate if approved. Article II asks to "raise and appropriate up to $301,722 to pay off incurring debt as a result of construction…" which Ryan explained looks like the district is just raising money, when in fact, the $301,722, would come from a debt re-tirement fund previously created by the proceeds from the sale of the old Effingham school building. This debt service relief will help to offset taxes.

Article III asks to "raise and appropriate up to the sum of $200,000…to be used for the school projects at the Kingswood Complex…if the Bonds are to be issued as 'Build America Bonds'…" The $200,000 actually represents the interest earnings on the invest-ment of the portion of the $67,242,614 in bonds previously authorized in 2009 that have not already been issued. Meader explained that the district will be looking into the most favorable financing out there and if Build America Bonds are chosen because of their more favorable interest rates, Article II allows the administration to use the interest earned on the building project (a requirement of BAB is that any interest spent on a capi-tol project), rather than a credit towards taxes.

Robertson said he was unwilling to change or add to the articles' language to provide clarity on these points because the language used comes recommended by the Depart-ment of Education. However, he added that an explanation of these two articles would be included in the mailer sent out to voters in late February. At the Feb. 1 school board meeting, Robertson thanked Ryan for her comments and reminded the public to look for these mailers.

Lastly, Lang questioned what would happen if Article III, regarding the Build America Bonds, was approved, but the administration chose to use another type of financing as it was stated they might if interest rates are lower. Robertson replied that the district would not have to go through this process again to authorize alternative financing. Lang agreed that the district should add a disclaimer to the article about how it affects taxes.

Other Warrant Articles

Article V – School Board member Charlene Seibel offered the audience a heartfelt ex-planation of Article V. Similar to Article IV, which covers the teachers' contract, it pro-vides for a one-year extension of the collective bargaining agreement between the school board and the Governor Wentworth Administrative Team. Like Article IV, it calls for no salary increases and no changes in the benefits provided currently. The administrative staff received a round of applause for their efforts and those of the teachers to save the district money by offering a level salary for three years. The administrative staff will also be donating their time for one week to the district.

Article VI – Ernie Brown, school board representative from Brookfield, shared the his-tory behind Article VI, to raise and appropriate $150,000 for repairs and improvements for all of the buildings and grounds in the district. The standard maintenance article, which was reduced by $50,000 from last year, is for maintenance and repairs separate from the Kingswood Complex project currently under way. Brown explained that every year the district comes across multiple costly unanticipated and planned repairs and pro-jects that require the funds, such as boiler replacement, roof repairs, and technology up-grades. With buildings ranging from five to 80 years in age, Brown said, Article V is rec-ommended by the board.

Article VII – Proposing an operating budget of $43,406,009 (a 3.01 percent net in-crease to tax assessment), Widmer, Chair of the Finance Committee, guided the public through the ins and outs of the committee's task at hand and how each town would be affected by the budget if approved in March.

Keeping in mind the current New Hampshire and national economies and their dual ob-ligation to the students and taxpayers alike, this year's challenges were enormous, shared Widmer. With employee, health insurance, and retirement costs on the rise, as well as the largest bond payment for the building project due, the committee streamlined the budget in other areas where changes could be made. Additionally, no new positions were ap-proved – the workforce is anticipated to be reduced by 2.1 percent (by natural attrition and elimination of some part-time positions) – and multi-grade classes will be created as ways the district is anticipated to save, but class sizes will be maintained at or below state averages and all special education requirements will be met.

Reminding the public the default budget is actually significantly higher then the pro-posed budget, Widmer spoke of the effect the budget would have on each town's tax rate if approved in March. Perhaps the most convincing of his slides was one which depicted how each of the district's towns sits among other towns in the state in regards to town tax rates and school tax rates. On this slide Widmer showed how all of the towns in the dis-trict fall below the state average, and that four schools actually fall in the lowest quarter. Compared with other New Hampshire towns, Brookfield is 161 with a town tax rate of 3.43 percent and 163 with a school tax rate of 9.92 percent; Effingham comes in at 62 with a 5.95 percent town tax rate and 177 with a 9.15 percent school tax rate; New Dur-ham is 120 with a 4.22 percent town tax rate and 159 with a 10.17 percent school tax rate; Ossipee is 88 with a 4.94 percent town tax rate and 187 with a 8.20 percent school tax rate; Tuftonboro falls at 225 with a 1.90 percent town tax rate and 222 with a 5.04 per-cent school tax rate; and Wolfeboro is at 159 with a 3.45 percent town tax rate and 219 with a 5.61 percent school tax rate.

With the proposed budget Brookfield's net increase to tax assessment equaled 9.92 percent; Effingham's equaled 10.83 percent; New Durham, 12.05 percent; Ossipee, 8.25 percent; Tuftonboro's equaled 5.45 percent; and Wolfeboro's totaled a 6.45 percent in-crease. Widmer added that even with the debt service due to the building project, the dis-trict is seeing its smallest increase its seen in the past decade.

Article VII was heard with no questions from the public.

At a later date, Robertson publicly thanked Business Administrator Mary Patry, Assis-tant Superintendent Kathleen Cuddy-Egbert, and Administrative Secretary Joanne Fiorini for their efforts towards collaboratively creating a well put together presentation and gathering all the information necessary. Additionally he thanked each board member for their hard work as well as the public who gave up their time by attending the session and will help to carry the word for vote in March.

For more information or to view the deliberative session in full, district voters can watch Metrocast channel WCTV 25. The Power Point presentation used at the meeting along with the warrant are also available on the district's Web site, www.govwentworth.k12.nh.us/.

Heather Terragni can be reached at 569-3126 or hterragni@salmonpress.com.

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