Kearsarge Opts for Resource  Officer

Deliberative Session Adds $50,000 for School Cop

North Sutton, N.H. — Voters were mum when it came to discussing new contracts for teachers that, for the first time ever, include provisions for merit pay raises at yesterday’s deliberative session for the Kearsarge Regional School District. But they had quite a bit to say when it came to an amendment adding $50,000 to the proposed budget for a new school resource officer — requested as a direct result of the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

The amendment was overwhelmingly, but not unanimously, approved, by the 80 voters — which included School Board and Municipal Budget Committee members — at the meeting. The resource officer issue is a contentious one, since articles asking for one have been voted down at least three times in previous years.

Richard Anderson, New London’s municipal budget committee representative, made the motion for the amendment, he said, not as a committee member but as a citizen.

By approving the amendment, it means the School Board’s recommended budget is $37,316,069, which does not include negotiated contracts, and the Municipal Budget Committee recommended budget of $37,328,065, which now includes the $50,000 for a resource officer.

“In light of the recent events, I’m of the opinion that this is an appropriate time to revisit this,” said Anderson of his motion. “This is not strictly to avert a tragedy like Newtown. There are many other advantages to having a resource officer in the schools. And fortunately, the likelihood of having a tragedy like Newtown happen in a school here (is) fortunately still fairly remote.”

Voter Bob Wright, of Sutton, spoke in favor of the amendment. “Some people will say we’re overreacting,” Wright said. “I really don’t think we are. Anybody who has (children) knows what happened. And there’s always a chance of something happening again. And the chance of something happening again is greater than the chance of something happening for the first time.”

Some people in the audience argued against the amendment.

“Trying to connect Newtown to anything in any way to what you’re proposing here is completely out of touch,” Charles Forsberg said. “Newtown was a very complicated arrangement that had nothing to do with the school. It just happened to be an unfortunate target. And that’s where we all live in our lives. We’re all unfortunate targets. If someone chooses to come up behind us, that’s the way it is.” He said that, with taxes going up and the economy still slow, it would be better to go back and discuss the issue further to try to come up with something better.

“If you want a little more security,” he said, “lock the doors.”

Kenneth Bartholomew, School Board member from Warner, said the district’s schools have cameras, locked doors and a buzzer system for allowing people into the building. Other members of the audience questioned how the program would work and how one officer would cover the high, middle and elementary schools.

Bartholomew said that, while details weren’t worked out, it would likely would involve a contracted services arrangement with the town of Sutton. The officer would split his or her time between the middle and high schools and would occasionally go to the elementary school to provide education to students, Bartholomew said.

Board member Gary Markoff, of New London, said the board was “very, very strongly” in favor of having an officer in the district. He said it would be impossible to have an officer in every school building all of the time. But, he said, the board would like to see a committed police presence in the schools on an ongoing basis.

Others pointed out that the school resource officer would be able to build relationships with students that may help prevent something like the Newtown massacre from occurring in one of their schools. Anderson said money for the officer represents a one-tenth of 1 percent increase to the district’s $37 million budget.

By comparison, the group was relatively quiet when it came time to discuss the contracts for district teachers and paraeducators, presumably because, by law, these articles can’t be amended and must go on the ballot as written.

Article two reflects the agreement between the Kearsarge Regional School District and the teachers union for a three-year contract from 2013-16. Under the agreement, if approved by voters, teachers would receive an approximately 1.3 percent raise each year for the first two years of the contract. In the third year, teachers will move to a performance-based compensation system.

School Board Chairman Dan Wolf said principals and administrators, along with an outside firm, will be responsible for evaluating teachers to determine raises, which will be based on a prescribed set of standards.

“I am very much in favor of this,” said Renate Kennler, a voter from New London, of the merit-based system. “We have teachers that go way above and beyond. They work many, many hours, and if they were in the private sector, they would be rewarded. And it should be the same for the teachers.”

The totals over the next three years for teacher salaries would be $455,791 for 2013-14, $470,755 for 2014-15 and $542,000 for 2015-16.

Voters will also be asked to approve a two-year contract for paraeducators, which will raise their hourly pay from $11.50 to $11.81 per hour. That means $72,159 would have to be approved for 2013-14 and $295,132 for 2014-15. Part of the increase in the second year of the contract is to account for the School District’s share of the health insurance contribution under the Affordable Health Care Act.