Cornish Wants School Spending Detailed
Everett Cass speaks during the school meeting at Cornish Elementary School in Cornish, N.H., on March 8, 2014. Cass introduced an amendment that would have cut $50,000 from the proposed budget, and said that if it passed he would introduce $50,000 cuts until they stopped passing. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Cornish Superintendent Dr. Middleton McGoodwin talks about the proposed school budget during the school meeting at Cornish Elementary School in Cornish, N.H., on March 8, 2014. "My intent is to provide the rationale behind it," said McGoodwin, who used a projected presentation to summarize information from the Cornish annual report. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Kelly Callahan speaks during the school meeting at Cornish Elementary School in Cornish, N.H., on March 9, 2014. "If you continue to cut and don't pass these raises, you're going to lose more kids," said Callahan, who said she moved to Cornish from Claremont, N.H., because of the small school. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Cornish — Over the course of the five-hour school district meeting yesterday, voters passed the proposed 2014-2015 school budget and all of the articles, some of which were amended in the process.
They also created a measure requiring the School Board to go over its proposed budget department by department at both the budget hearing and annual school district meeting.
Like many Twin State towns, Cornish is grappling with the question of how best to educate students in the face of declining enrollment. Doing “business as usual” is no longer possible for the school, and changes are needed, several people said.
Yesterday’s discussion reflected strong, sometimes contrary, opinions about what those changes should look like. While some voters worried that cutting school programs could dissuade couples with young children from moving to town, others said high taxes could force residents to leave.
The $3.7 million school budget is slimmer than the one presented at a deliberative session last month, at which School Board members accepted more than $80,000 in cuts, many suggested from the crowd. It includes reduced staff hours: one full-time teaching position will be cut, and two classes combined next year.
It’s not yet clear which grades will be affected. The hours of the librarian, school guidance counselor and, in the summer, the principal, will be reduced.
Nicole Saginor proposed a measure to restore the money for the principal and guidance counselor’s hours. “It is difficult enough to find principals to run the small schools,” and reducing the hours would make it even harder, she said. But others disagreed.
“We don’t need any amendments,” said Bill Wall, who like many in the crowd was also present at the deliberative session. “We have all these things done already.”
The measure was defeated, 78-64.
Everett Cass made a motion to reduce the budget by $50,000.
“A lot of you people think everybody’s made of money in this place,” Cass said during the discussion. “My taxes have doubled in the past 15 years. … So have yours.”
The proposal, which eventually was defeated, drew a plea from Adam Blue, who emphasized the need to attract new families to town.
Chipping away at the school’s programs would cause property values to decrease and be a disincentive for those considering moving to Cornish, he said. Instead, Blue suggested creating the strongest possible educational program for the school. “Let’s be reasonable everyone, please,” he said, drawing applause from the crowd.
Krista Merrihew, a write-in candidate for the School Board, proposed reinstating the entire amount that was cut during the deliberative session. The move would restore the staff hours, including the full-time teaching position, and the school could spend the year planning to create the multi-grade class, Merrihew said. The measure was also shot down, 115-87.
During the meeting, SAU officials and School Board members fielded questions and elaborated on aspects of the spending plan, but the School Board did not give a formal overview of the budget, which irked some voters. School custodian Mike Monette proposed that the board be required to do so in the future, and the measure passed easily.
In a ballot vote, residents approved an increase in teacher salaries over the next two years. In the first year, teachers will receive a step raise of about 3.7 percent, on average. In the second year they will receive a 3 percent raise.
Voters amended an article calling for the withdrawal of nearly $17,000 from a capital reserve fund to install new heating system controls and replace a decades-old heating unit in the second-grade classroom. The amended article includes an additional $6,000 from the fund to replace a second outdated heating unit.
An article asking to raise $20,000 in taxes as a deficit reappropriation for the current budget was also bumped up. The amended article raises $30,000 to address an increase in the number of high school tuition students and increased special education tuition costs.
An article raising $16,000 in taxes to be added to the school district’s special education/high school tuition capital reserve fund was approved in its original form.
Under the total 2014-2015 spending plan, the school tax rate will rise 8 cents to $15.19 per $1,000 of assessed value, resulting in a $20 increase on a tax bill for a $250,000 home.
Voters also gave the go-ahead to study the advisability of withdrawing from SAU 6, which includes Claremont, Unity and Cornish, and possibly joining, or purchasing services from another SAU. The warrant article was created by a separate committee of Plainfield and Cornish residents who studied how the two towns might work together to lower per pupil costs without compromising education quality.
The article worried some voters, including Jim Lukash, who feared it might be a step toward dissolving the Cornish school.
“If you think we’re having a hard time drawing young couples to town now, wait until we don’t have a school,” said Lukash, whose children attended the school and grandchildren are now students there.
But committee members said that was not the case. “To a person, no one (on the committee) wants to close the school,” Susan Chandler said. “It would take the soul out of our town.”
In ballot votes, Holly Taft and Cathy Parks were elected to the School Board, and Gwyn Gallagher was chosen as school district moderator.
Voters declined to adopt SB-2, legislation that allows school districts to host a public session to discuss the warrant articles, followed by all-ballot voting weeks later.
The change, which would have eliminated the traditional school meeting, required a three-fifths majority vote, but failed even to get a majority.
It was rejected, 193-177.
Aimee Caruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3210.
Gwyn Gallagher was elected school district moderator and Kimberly Patterson was elected school district clerk at the annual Cornish School Meeting. An earlier version of this story described the election incorrectly.