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School district warrant articles unchanged at Deliberative Session

February 10, 2011
WOLFEBORO — Disappointed only in its low attendance, Governor Wentworth Regional School District Superintendent Jack Robertson said the Deliberative Session held last Saturday, Feb. 5, went well. Aired live via local radio and WCTV, there was ample space left in the Kingswood Arts Center's sizeable auditorium as Moderator Randy Walker proficiently led those assembled through each of the five warrant articles proposed by the district.

With only a handful of questions, zero suggested amendments, and no heated debate, the whole thing was over within an hour and fifteen minutes.

"Every year [the process] seems to get better and better and easier and easier for us to get the information so clear and concise," said School Board Chair Jack Widmer, on preparing for the Deliberative Session.

Widmer, who did the bulk of the work by presenting both the State of the Schools Report and Article V regarding the proposed operating budget, highlighted in his report some of the significant events that occurred within the school community since fall and some of the accomplishments achieved by groups and individuals within the school district.

"Our students continue to be high achievers in many aspects of student life," he said of the 172 Gold/ Silver/ and Green and White Scholars who not only do well academically, but uphold a code of conduct and volunteer for community service. In addition Widmer noted, this year Kingswood has 41 high school scholar athletes, the most it has ever had in one school year.

"Congratulations to our students for their work and perseverance. It shows."

Also working hard are the construction team and employees who have helped make the Kingswood expansion and renovation project something more tangible than just blueprints.

Board member Ernie Brown presented a slide show of "one of the most complex school building projects ever in New Hampshire."

Encompassing 78,438 square feet of new construction and 281,253 square feet of renovation, Phase II is a complex choreography of 20-plus sub-phases and involves a large team of people to orchestrate the movement of classrooms and students as work continues. So far, Brown confirmed, construction of Phase II is on schedule.

"This is truly an exciting time to be a member of the school board. I'm proud to be representing the public and to have the opportunity to be part of this building project that provides state of the art facilities in which our students can learn and our teachers can do what they do best, teach."

Skipping forward to the articles, Article I, dealing with the election of school district officers, was not discussed, as voters will make their choices on March 8 at the polls.

Current members James Manning (Brookfield), Stacy Trites (Wolfeboro) and Charlene Seibel (at-large) are running uncontested, as is Randy Walker for the position of moderator.

Board member Charlene Seibel introduced Article II regarding the collective bargaining agreement reached between the school board and the Governor Wentworth Support Staff Association. The article calls for a negotiated increase in salaries and benefits estimated at $64,235.

After several bargaining sessions an agreement was reached leaving both negotiating teams happy with the outcome, explained Seibel. The most significant change in the contract, she said, is the health insurance. While the Support Staff Association agreed to a less expensive health care plan, switching from an HMO to an open access plan, the district has agreed to pay 100 percent of it. Those who opt out will receive a two percent increase. "Because the support staff agreed to adopt the less expensive plan, the impact in the district is much less than would be expected… this really is a win-win agreement for both parties."

Suzanne Ryan of Wolfeboro asked for clarification on the length of the agreement. Though Seibel had mentioned it was a one-year plan, the language of the article reads, "will continue in force and effect until a new agreement is executed," which indicated to Ryan that the agreement was open-ended.

The contract would only be for a year, confirmed Jack Robertson, however is complicated by the evergreen clause, "will continue on in force until such a time a new agreement is reached."

Mr. Bickford asked for a breakdown of the agreement amount into salary and benefits of which Robertson said approximately $7,000 can be attributed to salary at this point.

Article III, which only comes into play if Article II is defeated, reserves the right for voters to have the final say on a collective bargaining agreement by allowing a special meeting to be called to address Article II only.

Board member Diane Drelick explained that this law provides the ability to hold one special school district meeting to consider a new proposal to a failed collective bargaining article. If Article II failed and Article III passed, the school board and Support Staff Association would reenter into collective bargaining and work out another solution for the voters to consider.

There were no comments on Article III.

Article IV, which calls for $150,000 to be spent on repairs and improvements to school buildings and grounds, also received no comment from the public.

Board member Don Meader shared with the audience some of the many projects and repairs that need to be done at various buildings throughout the district. With buildings ranging from five to 80 years old, "they represent a very large financial investment," he said.

A 35-year-old air handler that serves the kitchen and gym at New Durham school needs to be replaced, as do the relay switches on a 19-year-old heating ventilation and cooling system in the boiler room at Ossipee Central School. Meader also mentioned that a section of the Carpenter School roof shingles should be repaired.

Article V, the proposed operating budget, asks for $45,981,059 to be raised and appropriated. The operating budget does not include appropriations requested by the other warrant articles.

Board Chair Widmer reiterated the key pieces from the budget hearing a few weeks back. He explained that the $45,981,059 budget's overall net increase would total 5.57 percent and that the closeness of the proposed budget to the state's default budget, which is less than $200,000 lower, shows the frugalness of the proposed budget. However, if forced to use the default budget, finding room in the already slim budget would prove difficult.

When asked by one Effingham resident why their taxes would be going up, Widmer explained that the district's towns were comparable to surrounding New Hampshire towns. The status of donor towns, which would affect Wolfeboro and Tuftonboro, is still up in the air.

Anyone interested in more information on any of the warrant articles is encouraged to call a board member to ask questions or browse the PowerPoint presentation given at the Deliberative Session from the district Web site, www.govwentworth.k12.nh.us. A mailer will be sent out within the next week or two, and coverage of the meeting can be seen on WCTV Channel 25.

Otherwise, stop by your town's polls on Tuesday, March 8, to place your vote. Voting will take place in Brookfield from 1 to 6 p.m. at the Brookfield Town Office building, Effingham from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Municipal Office Building, New Durham residents can vote from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the New Durham School, Ossipee voters will be able to cast their ballots from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Ossipee Town Hall, Tuftonboro polls will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Tuftonboro Town House and Wolfeboro residents will vote in the undercroft of the All Saints Episcopal Church from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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

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