Mascoma Has Complex Plan For Its Voters
Warrant Articles Would Fund Renovation, Energy Upgrades
Canaan — One year after voters narrowly rejected a proposal to renovate Mascoma Valley Regional High School, district officials have regrouped and developed a new proposal, this time with energy efficiency upgrades broken out as a separate spending item that would lower the amount borrowed for the renovation project.
The reduced borrowing, however, is contingent on voters approving the upgrades to lighting, insulation and windows as well as installation of wood-burning heating systems for all four Mascoma schools.
If the efficiency measure fails to pass and the renovation proposal does, the district will end up borrowing more to pay for updates to the 50-year-old high school.
While administrators acknowledge that having the multiple articles could perplex voters, they said the energy efficiency package was pivotal because it would yield significant annual cost savings. By having two interlocked articles, officials are giving voters who don’t support the school renovation an opportunity to support the energy upgrades.
“It’s a pretty impressive proposition,” Business Administrator George Caccavaro said of the energy upgrades. “Moving forward, it’ll have a heck of an impact on future budgets.”
When residents cast their votes at Town Meeting in March, they’ll be faced with a potentially confusing warrant with similar number amounts in different articles.
Article 3, the high school renovation bond issue — the money the school would borrow to pay for the project — is for $21.8 million, which is $2 million less than the proposal that fell short last year. It requires a 60 percent majority to pass.
The proposed 2013-14 school budget is also $21.8 million.
And Article 5, the energy efficiency scheme, is for $2 million, which is the same amount that officials cut from the high school renovation proposal. If this article passes, it would also knock off $130,000 from the proposed operating budget because of energy cost savings.
Finally, if Article 3 passes and Article 5 fails, the district would fold the cost of the energy upgrades at the high school back into the bond issue and borrow $23.8 million for the school renovation, instead of $21.8 million.
Caccavaro said the district does not yet have an estimate of what the property tax rate impact of the proposals would be for the five Mascoma Valley Regional School District towns. Residents in Enfield, Canaan, Orange, Grafton and Dorchester are invited to attend a deliberative session on Saturday at Indian River School in Canaan to review the warrant articles and sort it all out.
Article 5 is a lease-to-own agreement. If it’s approved, elementary schools in Enfield and Canaan would each get a wood pellet boiler. The high school and middle school, which are on the same property, would share either a wood chip-burning system or wood pellet-burning system — the school board is still trying to decide which type of wood fuel is most efficient.
Officials estimated the annual cost savings from the efficiency upgrades would pay for themselves over the 15 year life of the lease.
The proposed $21.8 million operating budget for the next school year is about $380,000 more than the current budget, an increase of about 1.8 percent. The main costs driving the increases are funding retirement, medical insurance premiums and tuition for Hartford Area Career &Technology Center.
The district is facing a 3 percent increase in retirement contributions for teachers, and a 2 percent increase for custodians and aids. The budget also factors in a 1 percent increase in medical insurance.
The Hartford Area Career & Technology Center is also asking for an additional $70,000 from the Mascoma district.
This is Caccavaro’s tenth and final budget with the district, and he said that he has come to know the difference between wants and needs when compiling a budget.
“It’s not a shopping list,” Caccavaro said, “it’s what you need to run the schools. There’s very little want in our budgets.”
Superintendent Patrick Andrew said he and district staff tried to put together a “bare bones budget” because they were cognizant that voters were being asked once again to approve a renovation bond.
One noticeable difference in the budget proposal is the superintendent’s salary, which is increasing from $70,000 to a little more than $95,000. The increase is due to the retirement of former superintendent Barbara Tremblay, who worked just three days a week.
Despite efforts to trim costs and find energy savings, passing the high school renovation proposal could still be a long shot.
Last March, a nearly identical bond to renovate the high school fell short by 96 votes. In 2008, voters turned down a $39.5 million proposal to build a new high school.
Mascoma High was built in 1963, and the boiler and heating pipes are original to the building. The gym floor is 50 years old, and the roof, which was replaced in the 1980s, now leaks.
As it did last year, the renovation proposal includes a new library, art room, band and choir rooms and an auditorium. The number of classrooms would increase from 27 to 39.
“I really think this is a year we can get (the bond),” Caccavaro said. “This is my last year and I’d like to go out knowing that we got that high school. I’d like to know that I was involved in giving them a high school that these students deserve.”
The district and the teachers union also negotiated a two-year contract and the support staff union negotiated a three-year contract.
The deliberative session is scheduled for 9 a.m. at the Indian River School gymnasium.
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3223.