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Joyce Endee

No changes made at school district Deliberative Session

DELIBERATING at the school district meeting last Saturday, Feb. 4, were Moderator Randy Walker (standing), Administrative Secretary Joanne Fiorini, Business Administrator Mary Patry, Attorney Christopher Bolt (standing in for the district’s attorney Barbara Loughman), Superintendent Jack Robertson, Chair to the School Board Jack Widmer of Tuftonboro, school board members, Diane Drelick of Effingham, member-at-large Donald Meader of Ossipee, Dr. Jim Manning of Brookfield, Jim Rines of Ossipee, member-at-large Charlene Seibel of Wolfeboro, Vice Chair Stacy Trites of Wolfeboro, Wendi Fenderson of New Durham, and Ernie Brown member-at-large from Brookfield. Not pictured is the Assistant Superintendent Kathleen Cuddy-Egbert who was seated to the side in order to operate the PowerPoint presentation. (Heather Terragni photo) (click for larger version)
February 09, 2012
WOLFEBORO — Just about 30 people showed up for the Governor Wentworth Regional School District's annual Deliberative Session held last Saturday morning, Feb. 4, seating themselves sparsely in the 850-seat auditorium of the Kingswood Arts Center.

With only a handful of questions were posed to the school board and SAU staff, the meeting lasted barely over an hour and resulted in no changes to any of the 10 proposed warrant articles.

School Board Chair Jack Widmer began the meeting with the traditional state of the school report.

In his address Widmer touted the district as being one of the best-run in the state. His experience serving on the New Hampshire School Boards Association executive board has given him, "some insight into the workings of school districts around the state," he said, "and I can tell you, not many districts operate as well as this one does."

Having provided the audience with some of the district's highlights – everything from the gold scholar program to new technology being implemented in the district to improved communications between teachers and parents –Widmer said, "Our community has a great deal about which to be proud."

He continued, "There are many other things about which I can elaborate today: curriculum development and implementation of the common core curriculum mandated by the state (which is on going), the implementation of antibullying presentations and programs, the achievements of individual students and staff members, the awards and honors of student organizations, etc…."

In closing he thanked the public for its "contributions towards making this such a special school district."

"Obviously there is a lot happening in the district," he said, "your support has been consistent over time, which has given us the opportunity to provide students with what they will need for their futures."

Next up School Board member and Chair of the Building and Maintenance Committee Ernie Brown provided a brief building project update.

"The question I am most often asked regarding the building project is 'are we on schedule?'" said Brown, "I am pleased to report that we are. The project will be complete this summer."

Brown made note of all the progress that has been made and is ongoing at the Kingswood complex commenting on the beauty and functionality of many of its new attributes and accommodations.

The updated equipment and increased space has provided the students and staff with more than aesthetics he said.

"The air quality is not observable, but several people have mentioned how nice it is to be in a building with good air quality: staff members feel healthier and students are more alert. The wider corridors allow for less crowded hallways and a calmer atmosphere overall, and the improved acoustics make it easier for students to be attentive in class."

While there is still some progress to be made in the upcoming months Brown said that he is sure that the district's residents will be proud of the buildings and equipment they've provided for the students.

"We look forward to the time when the project is completed and we will be able to invite all of you for a tour of the entire complex."

For now, with the exception of the newly-renamed Lakes Region Technology Center, all of the exterior masonry work has been completed, providing the buildings with a much more efficient insulation factor.

The completed media center, gymnasiums, cafeterias, state of the art science labs and classrooms are providing students with a renewed sense of pride Brown said.

While some classroom spaces, the high school lecture hall and the Technology Center are still under construction, it is anticipated that the newly revamped high school kitchen will be turned over within the next few weeks.

This will take some burden off the middle school kitchen, which, with the absence of a high school kitchen, has had to provide 1,700 meals a day to cover the high school, middle school, Carpenter Elementary and Crescent Lake School students. Because of this, Brown took a moment to especially thank District Food Service Director Cathy Kunzler and Food Service Assistant Director Cindy Joseph and their staff "for the extra work they've had to do." To this a round of applause echoed Brown's gratitude.

One comment, made by a student, which Brown says sums it all up: "This new building makes me feel like the community really thinks we are worth it."

"I think that [comment] says so much about the value of the building. This building is already beautiful, but what I find most gratifying is the feeling of pride and opportunity afforded to our children."

Warrant articles

Though Article I (the election of school district officers) was not up for discussion Moderator Randy Walker took a moment to go over which of the members were up for re-election and who was running for each seat.

After one three-year term Wendi Fenderson, currently the school board member from New Durham, has made the choice not to run again, however New Durham's Kathleen King has filed for her open seat.

Jack Widmer, the school board member representing Tuftonboro, is running uncontested and Ernie Brown, the school board member-at-large is running a contested race against newcomer Timothy Eldridge.

Articles II thru VII deal with three separate two-year collective bargaining agreements between the school board and another association that would each allow for a small increase in the salaries and benefits of the members of each perspective association.

Articles II and III

Article II asks voters to approve the collective bargaining agreement between the Governor Wentworth Regional School Board and the Governor Wentworth Administrative Team with total increases of salary and benefits of $32,007 in 2012-13 and $34,287 in 2013-14.

Board member Charlene Seibel introduced this article.

"We spend a much smaller portion amount of our budget on administration than most school districts in N.H.," said Seibel, "and yet we have an outstanding group of administrators in our district."

She explained that during the last two years the "administrators took the initiative to help our district and its taxpayers" by donating five days of pay back to the district amounting to a "voluntary 2.4 percent pay cut. It is indeed rare when a group without being asked initiates a self imposed pay cut [each year]."

This agreement provides for a two percent increase for each of the next two years, less then the amount they gave back voluntarily.

In response to a question posed by David Bickford of New Durham as to which employees were considered a part of the "administration team," Superintendent Jack Robertson clarified that a total of 18 employees fall under this purview including school principals, assistant principals, the special education coordinator and the director of guidance.

Becky Thornton of Tuftonboro asked if a separate warrant article would be created next year to cover the 2013-14 estimated increase of $34,287 to which Robertson said there would be no need. If Article II were passed this March that 2013-14 figure would be included in the next year's budget. This stands true for Articles IV and VI as well.

Article III provides a recourse for the district in the case that Article II is voted down. It allows for the district to call one special meeting in order to discuss new negotiations if needed.

Regarding Article III Seibel commented, "I certainly hope you will approve article II [therefore negating Article III] because it represents a very reasonable settlement."

Articles IV and V

Board Chair Widmer introduced Article IV, which asks voters to approve a collective bargaining agreement reached between the Governor Wentworth Regional School Board and the Governor Wentworth Education Association.

"We continue to pay [our teachers] considerably lower salaries than some of our neighboring school districts," said Widmer and they too "reduced their contracted work schedule by five days with a corresponding reduction in pay." Even though these five days have been voluntary Widmer reported, "participation by 251 teachers and professional support staff has been outstanding."

The proposed contract settlement calls for a 1.5 percent increase in wages for each of the next two years ($246,512 in 2012-13 and $253,977 in 2013-14), less than one half the consumer price index increase, but is "necessary to keep us competitive with our neighbors in hiring competent teachers for our children."

Here Wolfeboro resident Frank Giebutowski asked if the last sentence each of the articles regarding contracts referred to the Evergreen Clause, to which Robertson clarified that these employees would still get step increases in addition to the approved increase to benefits and salaries.

Like Article III, Article V offers an opportunity for the district to discuss new negotiations, should Article IV fail, that would then be presented to the public for vote.

Articles VI and VII

School Board Member Diane Drelick reviewed Article VI which asks that voters to approve the cost items included in the collective bargaining agreement reached between the Governor Wentworth Regional School Board and the Governor Wentworth Support Staff Association.

"One hundred sixty one full time equivalent employees are covered by the Governor Wentworth Support Staff Association collective bargaining agreement, including paraprofessionals, clerical workers, food service staff, drivers and custodians."

"This settlement provides a small increase for a group of hardworking and dedicated employees," said Drelick, "and is consistent with the settlements obtained in other governmental entities around the state and in the immediate area."

The settlement proposes that their wages be increased two percent for each of the next two years ($77,003 in 2012-13 and $78,542 in 2013-14) with all other aspects of their contract remaining unchanged from the current year.

Like Articles III and V, Article VII gives the district the option of calling a special meeting if Article VI fails.

Having clarified some general questions during discussions of the first two collective bargaining agreement articles no questions were asked regarding articles VI and VII.

Article VIII

In introducing this article, which calls for raising $150,000 for building repairs and maintenance throughout the district, board member Brown began by saying that, "our buildings and grounds represent a large investment on the part of you the taxpayers… Capital improvements provide us with the ability to keep our students in a safe, comfortable and pleasant environment and to protect your investment."

He explained all the various unforeseen and planned projects, small and large, that were completed throughout this past year alone as well as some that are anticipated for the upcoming year.

No questions were asked of the board regarding this warrant article.

Article IX

For Article IX Vice Chair to the Board Stacy Trites explained that the purpose of the Health Insurance Reserve Fund, which has grown to approximately $45,000, was created in 1990 with the purpose of providing financial resources for unexpected increases in health insurance costs.

Today, with no need for this amount in the fund, the board proposes in Article IX to return $40,000 of this as a credit to next year's property taxes.

No comments or questions by the public were made regarding article IX.

Article X

Chair Widmer had the opportunity to explain the proposed operating budget of $46,215,193 for the third time in the last few months. Because of the efforts of the finance committee and administration together, the general fund portion, which has the most impact on what the taxpayers have to pay, only rose .54 percent regardless of a 74 percent increase in building space.

After a very thorough presentation given by Widmer no questions were asked regarding the proposed operating budget for fiscal year 2012-13.

Voting for the school district warrant articles will be conducted by official ballot and will occur in conjunction with each town meeting on Tuesday, March 13.

Voting locations and times are as follows:

Brookfield voters, Brookfield Town Office, 1-6 p.m.

Effingham voters, Effingham Elementary School, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.

New Durham voters, New Durham School, 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Ossipee voters, Ossipee Town Hall, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Tuftonboro voters, Tuftonboro Town House, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Wolfeboro Voters, undercroft of the All Saints' Episcopal Church, 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Follow up

At the board's regularly scheduled meeting the following Monday Robertson took the time to thank everyone who worked to put the deliberative session presentation together.

"I want to thank people first in my office, in particular Kathy Cuddy-Egbert, Joanne Fiorini and Mary Patry, for all the work they put into getting all the materials, the PowerPoint slides and everything ready to go. I also want to thank all the board members for doing a great job in delivering all that material to our citizens."

Robertson said that because the board did such a great job explaining exactly what is in the budget, "hopefully when March rolls around we'll get support from our citizens. They've given us great support historically, which we're very grateful for."

In return, School Board member Jim Rines complemented Robertson on his daily efforts to make the district run so seamlessly.

"Kudos goes to you as well as the SAU staff," he said before explaining how other, not so fortunate districts, are facing much more antagonistic deliberative sessions this year, and who look to Governor Wentworth throughout the year as a good example of district efficiency.

The PowerPoint slides used during the presentation and the 2012 warrant will be made available for viewing on the district web site, http://www.govwentworth.k12.nh.us.

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