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Plainfield OKs School Budget; Action Urged on Enrollment

Meriden — Despite concerns about enrollment trends raised last night, a 20-minute discussion on funding allocation and grade consolidation still led to the voters passing the School Board’s 2013-14 budget.

It wasn’t without a bump or two, as some residents took issue with the board’s decision to use two teachers for its third- and fourth-grade cluster, which currently has 42 students, or one teacher per 21 students. If enough students enroll to make that ratio one teacher per 23 students, the board would hire a third teacher. There’s no money in budget for that eventuality, however, given the school’s declining enrollment over the past decade and grim projections for the future.

“That says to me you’ve given up the game; that you can’t bring more kids,” said resident Jonni Nichols. “And you can.”

Several residents weighed in on the issue, but it was the only notable hiccup in a straightforward school meeting last night. The Plainfield Elementary School budget passed, 117-65.

“We wanted to continue to improve and evolve,” School Board Chairman Chris Forman said during a presentation prior to the vote.

The $6.1 million operating budget is up about 5 percent from last year’s spending plan, which was approved at $5.8 million. The drivers of the increase include raises for teachers and support staff, as agreed to in a contract last year, as well as the state requiring the school to contribute more to the state retirement system. That item accounted for $70,000 of the budget increase. The projected education property tax rate of $15.49 per $1,000 of assessed value is an increase of 96 cents. A property assessed at $250,000 would have a tax bill of nearly $3,900, about a $240 increase.

The board budgeted for an extra half-day of work for its part-time superintendent, Gregory Vogt, which would be used to explore options to boost enrollment, Forman said.

This year, 231 students were enrolled in the school. A decade ago, that number stood at 304.

After the budget discussion, debate moved to the hotly contested SB2 article, which would require that all articles on the school board warrant be voted on via Australian Ballot, rather than at a floor meeting.

“If people do not attend this meeting, they forfeit their voting rights with no other recourse to participate,” said School Board candidate Maria Guzman, who is spearheading the measure, which the board has recommended against.

“I treasure this form of governance,” countered resident Rob Wendt. “I call it informed democracy, and I really don’t think we want to walk away from that.”

Voting on the SB2 question will occur by Australian Ballot on Tuesday, as will voting for town and school offices. Polls will be open at the school gym from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.