Board still supports superintendent position
April 06, 2011Gilford School Board members held a presentation Monday night and stood their ground on the superintendent position, which triggered a heated debate with taxpayers in the audience.
Board members felt that a management model developed in 1998 would only hurt Gilford School District in the end, where all three schools could potentially lose their accreditation.
While some members of the audience agreed with the board's stance, a handful of taxpayers expressed their frustrations over the matter.
During the most recent meeting at Gilford High School, Chairman of the School Board Kurt Webber discussed the superintendent issue and related petitioned warrant article, passed during March elections.
Webber said the presentation not only illustrated the board's stance, but also clarified the issue at hand.
"The School Board acknowledges they did not effectively communicate the board's position prior to the vote on March 8. This may be why some voters were perhaps not clear on the ramifications," said Webber.
He said the board also aims to improve their communication with the public, and plans to post the actual presentation and supporting documentation on the district's Web site.
Throughout his presentation, Webber explained that the SAU Planning Committee was formed in 1997 to consider the withdrawal from SAU #30, to form a single district.
"The only definitive way to determine what happened in 1997 and 1998 is to use the official minutes from the public meeting on Dec. 16, 1997," said Webber, who pulled up several documented statements from the meeting.
He pointed out that members of the SAU committee and the School Board at the time viewed the management plan as a work in progress – a plan that could be configured later on, while the separation and forming of a single school district was the focus of the warrant in 1998.
The SAU Transition Committee then formed in March of 1998 to aid in the planning of SAU #73. In December of 1998, the Transition Committee voted in favor of staying with the current administrative structure and number of staff members, including a superintendent and a business administrator.
"Questions were raised at the time," said Webber. "The committee said that after receiving additional information, the circumstances had changed. They backed up their position with further research and made a recommendation on what a more effective plan would be."
Webber stated that the Gilford School Board had unanimously voted in agreement of the Transition Committee's recommendations made in 1998. He added that in regards to legal status, the board still viewed the latest petitioned warrant article as advisory only, based on the school attorney's opinion. The board also received a letter from Judith Fillion of the Department of Education, stating that the model presented in 1998 would no longer be approved, since the school district is composed of three different buildings and 1,247 students.
"Based on the facts just presented and the official meeting minutes just discussed, the board believes there was no final management plan for SAU (back in 1998), and that the issue would be discussed at a later time. The main objective March 1998 was for Gilford to withdraw from SAU #30," said Webber. "The board feels that moving to the model proposed by the SAU would put the district in violation."
After the presentation, half a dozen taxpayers stood for public comment. Half of the taxpayers sided with the board, while the other half felt the vote on March 8 should not be ignored.
Resident David Horvath said he expected an apology from the School Board, and felt that Gilford was being told what to do and what to think throughout the presentation.
"Don't make up our minds for us. Looking back on documents and the newest petition, both were clear as day in 1997 and 2011," said Horvath.
While Horvath believed the petitioned warrant article was clear, Webber said that several people have come to him and asked for clarification on the warrant.
During resident Mark Corry's remarks, he said several highly intelligent people also complained of a lack of clarity in the warrant articles in years past, and felt that this vagueness may have been a deliberate act.
To make his point, resident Kevin Leandro cited a portion of the law stating that an SAU must provide "superintendent services" but not necessarily hire a superintendent. Instead, he believed that the superintendent's role could be carried out through administrative staff members.
"This should have been considered a package deal, and not a proposal," said Leandro, referring to the management model and withdrawal from SAU #30. "You should follow the will of the people. Nothing gives you the power to overrule. I suggest you go back and discuss the issue with your lawyer some more."
Leandro accused the board of "editorializing" their presentation, and said that Gilford's test results did not warrant the level of funds the district has spent.
After Leandro's comments, Webber stated that the management model portion of the plan was in fact just a proposal, and was not finalized when the taxpayers voted in 1998.
Resident Joe Wernig said he would have to disagree with Leandro's statement since all his children are products of the Gilford school system, and all his children are successful.
"My children are doing well thanks to Gilford School District and this community. I have disagreed with the board in the past, but I appreciate what the School District has done for my children," said Wernig.
He suggested that residents unhappy with the School District's current management structure find another town to live in if they are truly set on changing the structure.
"Live with the fact that it is against the law to forego a superintendent with this amount of students. A lot of people are also upset the School Board is spending time on this issue. We are putting out an incredible product," said Wernig. "Deal with it. We have a superintendent, and we will continue with a superintendent, since it is the law. I want to see the good publicized."
While some residents felt the management structure should be considered by principle, other residents are concerned with an ever increasing tax rate, including Barbara Aichinger.
"The superintendent issue is a symptom of a much larger problem. The dollar per student is way out of whack," said Aichinger. "The numbers continue to rise, and we all know it's not going to the children; it's going to the adults."
George Lacroix, a resident of Gilford since 1973, said two out of his three children graduated from Gilford, and have done fairly well in life. While he commended the district, he also agreed with Achinger's position that the cost per student is just too high.
"Spending more money is not the answer. There have been exceptional students in the Gilford school system for many years. With respect to the board and the superintendent, I think the route without the superintendent is the right route," said Lacroix. "Let's at least give it a try. Speaking on behalf of all senior citizens, we can't afford higher taxes."
Resident after resident stood for public comment on Monday night. While some stood behind the school board, others did not, yet the board still held their ground.
"There will always be varying views of this issue. We will never resolve this argument," said Webber.
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