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Board debates ACS 'wish list'

THE ALTON SCHOOL BOARD took a moment during its meeting Monday night to recognize several staff members who have furthered their education or received accolades from the state over the past year. Seated in front, from left to right, are teacher Susan Bailey, who received her Smartboard certification this year; second grade teacher Pam Forbes, who was nominated by her peers as New Hampshire’s Teacher of the Year; pre-school teacher Joan Rees, who was selected as Special Education Teacher of the Year for the state of New Hampshire; David Vachon, who will be retiring next month from a position in Food Services; teacher Denise Perry, who received an Advanced Graduate Studies degree; and fifth grade Science teacher Derek Pappaceno, who received an Excellence in Teaching award from the New Hampshire Society of Professional Engineers. In back, from left to right, are school board members Krista Argiropolis, Jeff St. Cyr, Terri Noyes, Lynda Goossens, and Sandy Wyatt. Brendan Berube. (click for larger version)
May 26, 2010
ALTON — The end-of-year 'wish list' presented to Alton's School Board Monday night by Superintendent Kathy Holt sparked a heated discussion among board members about the validity of several requests.

As each school year nears its conclusion, the board asks administrators and staff to put together a list of purchases they would like to make with whatever unencumbered funds are available at the end of the fiscal year.

Holt explained during Monday night's meeting that she intended to honor a promise made to the budget committee earlier this year by returning any unexpended funds from the district's snow plowing, heating oil, and propane budgets to local taxpayers at the end of the current fiscal year.

Editor's note: While those funds will not physically be returned to taxpayers, they will be used to off-set any increases in the district's tax rate next year.

With those funds set aside, Holt anticipated a remaining unencumbered fund balance of $136,000 for the 2010 fiscal year. She advised the board, however, that district officials might ultimately have to dip into that balance if any unforeseen maintenance issues arise between now and June 30.

This year's list of end-of-year purchase requests was broken down by Holt into four categories — instructional needs, new equipment, repair and maintenance, and building upgrades.

The instructional requests included $5,450 for multiple sets of Marilyn Burns Mathbooks; $2,616 for Leveled Learning reading assessment kits for grades K-3; and $300 for new world maps in all Science classrooms.

Requests for new equipment included $300 for a new sandbox that will used by preschool students; $14,261 for 21 Netbook laptops to replace a group of Dell laptops that are beginning to fail, along with a new cart; $10,739 for three new Smarboards — one for the Music room, one for the Gifted & Talented room, and one for the Kindergarten wing; $1,100 for a new projector for the Art room; $6,000 for a new ADS Purchase Order Requisition Module; and $9,469.87 for new 'safe hooks' to replace the existing brass coat hooks throughout the school.

The building repairs and upgrades requested by Holt and Buildings and Grounds Director Karl Ingoldsby included $617 for replacement of the back loading ramp at the SAU office; $8,000 for new steps and a walkway leading to the front door of the SAU office; $4,875 for repairs to the roof over Room 35; up to $9,400 for duct cleaning; $6,800 for safety upgrades to the baseball field fence, dugouts and backstop; $1,000 for striping of handicapped parking spaces along Pine Street and in front of the school; $5,400 for repairs to the floor at the back entrance of the school (near the Kindergarten wing) and the installation of new vinyl tiles; $8,344 for repairs and new paint in the boys' and girls' locker rooms; and $11,800 for upgrades to the ceiling and lighting in the Art room (which will be completed as part of this summer's middle school bathroom and window renovation project).

All told, the list of requests totaled $106,471.87.

Several board members voiced concerns about the idea of constructing new steps and a walkway to the front door of the SAU office, prompting an extensive discussion about how the handicapped access ramp at the office tends to lead visitors to the back entrance, rather than the front door, confusing them.

With some board members suggesting that visitors to the SAU office should be "buzzed in" for security reasons, Holt and Business Administrator Kathy O'Blenes agreed to look into the possibility of purchasing an IP camera system, and installing a camera at the back entrance to the office.

The $8,000 originally requested for the steps and walkway was reduced by the board to $4,000.

Asked by board member Krista Argiropolis why the estimated cost of duct cleaning ranged from $1,200 to $9,400, Holt explained that one of the companies recently invited out to examine the condition of the air ducts in some classrooms suggested that the real source of the problem was a lack of ventilation, and not necessarily the cleanness of the vents.

A recent air quality report, she said, stated that there was no link between the cleanness of the school's air ducts and the small amount of contamination found during the tests.

With that in mind, she said she had opted to have the vents in "one small area" of the building cleaned out, and, if that proved helpful, spend the remaining $8,200 to have the rest of the school's vents cleaned.

Board member Sandy Wyatt objected to the notion of spending $1,200 only to find out what had already been shown in the air quality report the district paid for earlier this year.

The school's maintenance staff, she said, can take care of cleaning any visible build-ups of dust in air ducts.

Agreeing with Wyatt, the remaining board members removed duct cleaning from the list of end-of-year requests.

Wyatt also objected to the idea of re-painting the locker rooms, noting that she and board member Lynda Goossens were told during their walk-through of the building in March that the locker rooms were being used for storage.

She would have a problem paying for repairs to an area that is not being used for its intended purpose, she said.

Principal Bonnie Jean Kuras explained that students do use the locker rooms.

Only portions of the locker rooms have been used as storage for equipment that needed to be removed from the middle school wing during roof repairs in the summer of 2008 and for the doors to the server room (which were removed at Technology Director Pam McLeod's request due to the excessive amount of heat in that area), she added.

Wyatt, however, continued to object to the idea of spending money on repairs to a part of the building that was no longer being used for what local taxpayers were told it would be used for when they agreed to fund construction of the locker rooms.

"I have a problem with destroying things that the townspeople have paid for, and I have a problem with paying almost $10,000 to re-paint locker rooms that are going to be used as storage," she said.

Argiropolis said she felt the board would be sending a "mixed message" to Ingoldsby by asking him to repair the locker rooms and then refusing to pay for the repairs.

"There are multiple issues here," Wyatt replied, stating that the three major issues, in her mind, were why the server room doors (which taxpayers paid to have installed) were removed and put into storage; how re-painting the locker rooms would improve the condition of the floors, which were pitted and scratched by baseball players who should never have been allowed to wear metal cleats inside the building; and why the locker rooms are being used for storage.

Stating that her "biggest concern" was the safety of students who use the locker rooms, Argiropolis asked whether the condition of the locker room floors would expose students to athlete's foot or other bacterial infections.

Holt said she would advise students not to walk across those floors barefoot, as they are not sterilized on a daily basis.

Responding to Wyatt's comments, Kuras said that although she understood Wyatt's concerns, "storage is at a premium in this building."

With member Lynda Goossens and Vice Chair Terri Noyes pointing out that the Construction subcommittee of the board's Buildings and Grounds Committee is currently discussing whether or not to include the locker rooms in the large-scale renovation project that will be brought before voters next year, the board ultimately chose to remove the locker room repairs from the list of end-of-year requests.

Reviewing the list, Goossens questioned whether many of the requests should have been taken care of in the FY10 budget.

Argiropolis (who serves as the board's budget committee representative) said the budget committee informed during a recent meeting that it felt district officials should start planning for end-of-year expenditures as early as March in order to ensure as small a surplus as possible.

She respectfully disagreed, she said, stating her belief that it is better to appear before the budget committee with too much, rather than with a shortfall.

Adding that she would personally have liked to see more instructional items on the list, Argiropolis asked whether there were any plans on the horizon to make improvements to Alton Central's modular classrooms.

Holt explained that while improvements to the modulars, such as new carpeting, may be necessary, she was hesitant to bring anything forward without knowing whether or not the modulars will still be in place after the upcoming renovations.

Suggesting that "a lot of this is back-end budgeting," Goossens said the only items on the list that she considered legitimate end-of-year requests were the building repairs and upgrades, which sometimes come up in the middle of the school year.

Items like the new Netbook laptops, she said, should have been taken care of during the budgeting process.

"This, to me, is a budget … to spend $106,000 at the end of the year doesn't seem like good budgeting to me," she added, sparking an extensive discussion about the laptops, which McLeod said were included on the end-of-year list in response to the unforeseen failure of a number of the school's existing Dell laptops, and would be rolled into the FY12 budget if the board voted not to approve the purchase this time around.

The board ultimately chose to remove the Netbooks from the end-of-year list.

The $9,469.87 requested by Ingoldsby for new safe hooks was reduced to $5,000.

The remaining end-of-year requests were unanimously approved by the board, pending an itemized list of the improvements Ingoldsby plans to make to the baseball field.

Bathroom renovation bid approved

The board also accepted a bid Monday night for the upcoming middle school bathroom and window renovations (along with ceiling and lighting improvements in the gymnasium and Art room and a new air conditioning unit for the server room) in the amount of $308,485, which will be paid for through capital reserve funding and end-of-year funds.

At the suggestion of Argiropolis, the board also voted to hire a clerk of the works or supervisor to oversee the renovations.

A public hearing on the withdrawal of capital reserve and expendable trust funds in support of the project will top the agenda for the board's next meeting, which has been scheduled for Monday, June 14, at 5:30 p.m. in the middle school library.

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

Varney Smith
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