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Joyce Endee

WMRSD board to consider 2-year delay for CTE project

May 04, 2011
WHITEFIELD — Is a bird in the hand really worth two in the bush?

The question this proverb poses lies at the heart of a significant decision that the White Mountains Regional School District school board likely will make in the next several weeks.

Federal funds are in the pipeline to upgrade and renovate — or even to expand — the space for its Career and Technical Education (CTE) offerings at WMR High School.

CTE is the term now used for what was once called vocational education. At one time "Voc Ed" was aimed primarily at students who were not planning to go onto college or further formal education. That's no longer the case, however.

The federal dollar share for the District's CTE project could be as high as 70 percent or as low as 50 percent, with District taxpayers picking up the balance.

Under the state's schedule, a warrant article would be presented to voters in March 2013 for a CTE project to be completed in 2014-2015.

No one at the state Department of Education (NHDOE) now knows what the reimbursement percentage would be, Interim SAU #36 Superintendent Dr. Harry Fensom explained at the April 25 school board meeting. Voters would certainly know how much the project would cost local taxpayers before being asked to vote a warrant article up or down, however.

The existing CTE facilities very much need to be updated, CTE Director Lori Lane has explained over the past several years. Little has been changed since the "voc ed" wing was built in 1984 to keep it in line with industry and job needs, and kitchen ovens and other equipment becoming costly to repair.

Fensom believes, however, that there could be some advantages to giving up the District's place in line for federal CTE funds, even though high school students would have to continue using out-of-date facilities.

The interim superintendent said that if the school board votes to have the District relinquish its place in line for two years, then voters would not vote until 2015 on the proposed project with its scheduled completion in 2016-2017, assuming that the federal program — and its funding — stays in place with all the changes in Washington, D.C.

By March 2015, Fensom believes that the school board would be able to present a comprehensive pre-school-to-grade-12 plan for all its facilities to District voters.

Right now, the superintendent and a handful of administrators, plus some school board members, are giving serious consideration to realigning the District's grade configuration, putting all students at each grade level in the same building, just the way it is in the high school grades.

Discussion of this idea has centered on making one of the two pre-school-to-grade-8 school buildings into an elementary school and the other one into a middle school. Exactly where the break point would be between the two buildings if this idea moves forward has not yet been determined.

If the District were to be transformed into a three-level system from its current two-level configuration, then the very small Jefferson School — which now ends at grade 6 — would be closed.

A three-level system would make curriculum coordination and internal communications would be much easier to manage, proponents say.

Greater efficiency could also be achieved, and likely fewer teachers employed while still maintaining reasonable class sizes.

If such a plan should become the board's official direction and the CTE project also be delayed, then two bond issues could be proposed in March 2015, Fensom said. Upgrades to replace outdated or worn-out facilities, plus any changes that would be needed to make these existing buildings work well for fewer grades could be aggregated, plus any needed work at the high school unrelated to CTE.

In New Hampshire, stand-alone middle schools must offer somewhat different course offerings than Kindergarten-to-grade-8 schools, for example. Kindergarten rooms have specific square-foot requirements. Playing fields and any interscholastic needs, if any, would be taken into account.

Bus routes and transportation policies would also be key elements in any proposed plan.

A two-year moratorium on school building aid is being put in place by the state legislature, Fensom explained.

This could result in a pent-up demand for state aid for building projects in 2015. The CTE project and a project to transform one existing building into a middle school and another into an elementary school would have to be kept separate, because the former would use federal funds.

Happily, WMRSD will retire existing building construction and renovation bonds in 2012-2013.

This year, 2010-2011, the District will receive $371,843 in state building aid.

In 2011-2012, with payments to be made on one less bond, that figure drops to $187,571.

Fensom accepted a school board offer to stay in place in the District's top slot as an interim part-time superintendent for the next two years and is

slated to leave in June 2013.

This would give a new superintendent only slightly more than a year-and-a-half to muster public support leading to the passage of two bond issues in 2015.

On Monday, May 9, the school board will discuss its plan of approach to making a decision on the timing of the District's CTE project under a new agenda item: Strategic Planning.

The total number of WMRSD students, including 69 part-timers in preschool, stands at 1,262. The full-time kindergarten has the smallest number at 69, and the largest is the ninth grade at 118.

The sixth grade has 107, and there are 89 seniors in the Class of 2011.

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