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Mascoma Regional High School Proposal Falls Short of 60%

Amy Labrecque, 13, an eighth-grader at Indian River School in West Canaan, braves the rain to rally support for proposed renovations for Mascoma Valley Regional High School near the Enfield polls yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March)

Amy Labrecque, 13, an eighth-grader at Indian River School in West Canaan, braves the rain to rally support for proposed renovations for Mascoma Valley Regional High School near the Enfield polls yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

For the third time in five years, residents said no to a multimillion dollar upgrade for Mascoma Valley Regional High School.

The vote for the bond was 1,807-1,240 — or 59.3 percent in support — falling just shy of the required 60 percent majority.

A group of supporters gathered at the SAU office in Enfield yesterday as votes were being tallied. In the end, it became clear that if 22 more people had voted yes, they would have gotten the 60 percent majority needed to pass the $21.8 million bond.

“It’ll be a real heartbreaker tomorrow to tell these kids that they didn’t get a renovated school,” said School Board member Claudette Peck. “For (so few) votes, it’s such an unfortunate decision that the district made today.”

Yesterday’s vote marked the second consecutive year a renovation plan failed at the polls. Just like last year, the bond received strong support in Enfield and Canaan, but failed in Orange, Grafton and Dorchester.

The bond passed in Enfield 851-332, and got a simple majority in Canaan, 624-440. In Dorchester, the bond failed 49-91, in Grafton 215-304 and in Orange 68-73. Enfield, at 72 percent, was the only town where the bond passed with more than a 60 percent margin.

“Enfield came through for us,” said Peck, who is also from Enfield. “It’s really unfortunate that the other four towns didn’t see the value of education in the district. It’s painfully sad.”

All other articles passed. Residents approved a $21.8 million budget, teacher contracts and a $2 million article for energy savings improvements at all four schools in the district.

The energy efficiency article passed 2,060-924. Johnson Controls, a Wisconsin-based company, will upgrade lighting, insulation, windows and add a new wood burning boiler system to all four schools. But Peck, the School Board member, pointed out that despite the energy upgrades, the internal workings of the high school will stay the same.

“So now we’ll put great windows into a school that doesn’t meet state standards,” said Peck, the School Board member. “We’ll get a new boiler, but the leaking pipes will still be there. The tomato cans will still hang, the teachers will still have carts.”

Turnout in Enfield was much stronger this year than in past years, and residents had hoped that Enfield could help carry a yes vote for the renovation bond. Last year, only 954 Enfield residents cast a vote on the renovation question, while 1,183 cast a ballot this year. There are 2,905 voters on Enfield’s checklist.

The support in Enfield was visibly stronger this year. Last year, small purple yards signs popped up along Route 4 from Enfield to Canaan encouraging people to support the renovation. This year, residents along Route 4 posted large white signs in their front yards and students and adults were standing in the pouring rain yesterday waving and holding signs that read, “Honk for our future!”

Amy Labrecque, a 13-year-old eighth grader, turned out after school to hold a sign in front of the Enfield Community Building that read, “Our future is in your hands. Please vote yes.” Lavrecque and several of her friends also held signs in Enfield on Saturday and Sunday.

“We’re going to do whatever it takes to get our school renovation,” she said.

Enfield resident Katie Tevere voted in favor of the renovation because she has two daughters in the district. One of her daughters is in the eighth grade, and two of her friends’ families are moving out of the district next year because of the poor state of the school, Tevere said.

“I think it’s a big deterrent for people because the school district isn’t up to par,” Tevere said. “I think there’s a level of apathy because they keep seeing it on the ballot and it’s not passing. It shows the community and the teachers that people don’t care.”

The Mascoma Valley Regional School District has been trying to improve the high school since 2008. The high school was built in 1963 and has never had a major renovation. Teachers push around carts because there are more teachers than classrooms, and there is no sprinkler system in the building. On top of that, Superintendent Patrick Andrew said one of the school’s two boilers failed on Monday and there’s no reviving it. The renovation would have given the high school a complete overhaul and provided a new gym floor, a new parking layout and an auditorium, among a list of other items.

Residents defeated a bond in 2008 for a new high school that would have cost $39.5 million. Then last year, a $23.8 million renovation failed. The School Board presented an identical renovation this year, but chopped off $2 million in cost.

Julia Kleinzawilinski also held a sign in front of the polls in Enfield yesterday and said she’s supported the renovation since a new school was approved in 2008.

When Kleinzawilinski moved to the district 16 years ago, she worried about the state of the high school, but she figured that something would be done to the school before her children were made it to high school. Now her children are eighth and tenth grade. “If I was just standing here for my kids, I’d be 10 years too late. I’m here for the community,” Kleinzawilinski said.

As Kleinzawilinski stood out in the rain holding her sign, she said that it usually takes two to three years for items like a large renovation to pass in many districts.

“I’m saving my signs for next year,” she said.

And just like the two votes prior, the naysayers made their voices heard.

David Tupper Sr. was the first to cast his vote in Grafton and it was against the renovation project. Amid a steady morning drizzle, Tupper leaned against the doorway 10 minutes before the polls opened, watching town staff prepare to receive voters at the fire station.

“My concern is the school and I will not vote for it,” Tupper said.

He said he believed the school needed some renovations, but the current proposal was too “fat.”

“At these times, when it’s so (financially) tight, we do not need a $3 or $4 million auditorium,” Tupper said.

David and Deborah Johnson of Canaan also voted against the renovation. David Johnson is a retired teacher, and worked in the Mascoma school district in the 1970s. He said he didn’t believe the school needed to expand because of declining enrollment.

Deborah Johnson said she doesn’t think the community needs to buy an auditorium and added that she had two daughters graduate from Mascoma High in the 1980s and they went to college and did “just fine.”

Her husband, David, argued that the size of the high school will work if the district wants it to work and said he doesn’t believe throwing money at schools contributes to a better education.

“What’s the limit? You can’t keep putting more and more money into a school. It’s out of control,” David Johnson said.

Enrollment is down by 36 students this year. And the district only has 1,245 students compared to 1,579 in 1999. But the number of students is not why Superintendent Patrick Andrew has fought for the renovation. Andrew argues that the school needs a renovation because there are more teachers than there are classrooms. And without expanded space, the high school can’t grow its curriculum and offer more classes, Andrew said.

Julia Kleinzawilinski was standing outside the polls in Enfield yesterday holding an umbrella and a hand written sign. When people walked past, she said, “Consider supporting our schools.” Some voters gave her a thumbs up, while others said “No thanks.” When Enfield resident Clyde Farewell walked up, Kleinzawilinski repeated her line, but Farewell said, “I’m not going to.”

Farewell voted against the renovation and all other school articles because he said he has lived in Enfield all his life and he’s tired of seeing his taxes increase.

“They just keep asking for more money,” Farewell said. “I’m retired and I see my taxes go up and up and up and there ain’t no end to it. The school budgets are too large. They shouldn’t be asking for so much.

Other voters, like Enfield resident Mike Vaillancourt, said he agreed that the district needs the renovation — he even supported the idea of an auditorium — but voted against it because the impact is too much for the average tax payer. He also said he’s frustrated that people that rent don’t have to pay as much to the schools as property owner.

“I don’t mind paying my fair share, but this is more than my fair share,” Vaillancourt said. “Tax payers are taking a beating. If it’s fair and equitable next time around, I’ll vote for it.”

School Board members and administrators wouldn’t guess how the district will move forward. Several residents were discussing asking for a recount. And with Peck stepping down and Enfield resident Danielle Thompson taking her place, School Board member Wayne Morrison said it’s too early to tell what the School Board will decide.

But Superintendent Patrick Andrew said that the district will move forward.

“We will come up with another proposal to address the needs of the students of the high school and we will move that forward in 2014,” Andrew said. “I think people will see that we’ve dragged it this far so we’ll address the issues at the high school.”

Chris Fleisher and Jordan Cuddemi contributed to this report. Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

CORRECTIONS

This article has been amended to correct an earlier error. The following corrections appeared in the Thursday, March 14 edition of the Valley News.

School superintendent Patrick Andrew said Mascoma Valley Regional High School needs to be renovated because there are more teachers than classrooms in the 50-year-old school. David Tupper Sr. of Grafton said he voted against the renovation project. And Amy Labrecque was holding a sign outside the polls Tuesday in support of the article. An article yesterday incorrectly paraphrased Andrew, didn't fully identify Tupper, and misspelled Labrecque's name.

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