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Lyme School Again On Ballot

School Board Proposes Lower Cost Expansion

The Lyme School Meeting will take place at Lyme Elementary School at 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 6. The Town Meeting will be held at the Lyme Community Gymnasium on Tuesday, March 11 at 9 a.m., with voting by ballot on offices between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Lyme — Five days before electing two new members to the Lyme School Board on March 11, voters will decide which challenge the board will face next: to oversee a $3.3 million renovation of Lyme Elementary School, or to continue for at least another year to educate some 200 children in the existing space and auxiliary trailers.

The School District’s second request to voters in as many years to add classrooms, improve energy efficiency and make the K-8 school more accessible — this time for some $500,000 less than the project that fell 29 votes short of passing in 2013 — will go before voters at the School District Meeting on March 6.

They’ll also rule on a request for $5.6 million for regular school operations at the school meeting, and, at Town Meeting on March 11, a municipal budget of just over $2 million.

Along with a two-story addition containing five rooms, including space for arts classes and information technology, the school project would expand the kitchen, add a bathroom accessible to disabled people, and replace the roof over the wing that houses the lower grades.

If the plan fails to win a two-thirds majority of votes, a subsequent article on the School District warrant asks voters to add $80,000 to the district’s capital-reserve fund for maintenance of school buildings.

On the eve of his last School District Meeting as a member of the School Board, Chairman Mark Schiffman estimated that if voters approve both the renovation and the operating budget, the school portion of Lyme’s property-tax rate would rise a combined 5 cents to $13.51 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

That would add about $12.50 to the tax bill of owners of a home valued at $250,000. To offset some of the costs to taxpayers, school supporters have raised some $200,000 in private donations.

“This type of thing has never passed the first year in Lyme,” said Schiffman, chairman of the School Board. “We were pleased with how close it was last year. And this is potentially an even better plan.”

The three candidates for two open seats on the School Board say they mostly prefer what they see this time.

“I had my doubts before,” said Paul Mayo, who runs a solar-development firm, serves on the town volunteer fire department, and is the father of children in grades 4, 5 and 7 at the school. “I think with this plan now, the timing is right for the school.”

In addition to meeting higher standards for energy consumption and regulations for handicapped access, candidate Steven Toulmin cites the “flexibility” that the renovation plan gives the school workers for incorporating modern technology and teaching foreign languages — and for ending the trailers in the school yard for one of the few Upper Valley districts where enrollment is growing.

“We need to have a more permanent place,” said Toulmin, a learning specialist at the Ray Elementary School in Hanover and the father of a first-grader and a kindergartner-to-be. “As a special-educator, I look at the term ‘least-restrictive environment.’ … (Project planners) did a nice job in going back to the drawing board. They really made adjustments that seem practical and functional and very future-oriented.”

School-board candidate Gregory Bogdanich said that while he’s still weighing the pros and cons of the latest renovation proposal, he finds it “pretty odd” to still see the auxiliary trailers in the schoolyard.

“Obviously, it’s not pocket change, though (the Lyme project) is modest compared with Mascoma,” Bogdanich, a restorer of wood-framed barns and houses, said of the neighboring district’s $21.5-million proposal to overhaul its regional high school. “Last year, (Lyme School officials) didn’t quite have their act together. The potential for cost overruns was there. I do have confidence in (Principal) Jeff Valence. He’s a terrific guy.”

Whichever way the bond vote goes, Bogdanich said that if he wins a seat on the School Board, he will focus on making sure that the school district cautiously approaches the Common Core State Standards movement to teaching basic skills in mathematics and English-language arts.

“This thing has me a little concerned,” said Bogdanich, whose son and daughter attended Mascoma schools in the 1990s. “There’s a centralization to it that I’m very wary of. It’s a one-size-fits-all education system. The more I read about it, the more suspicious I become.”

Mayo, who served on a school board on New York’s Long Island that oversaw a $50-million budget and spent $160 million renovating three schools, describes himself as having “no particular agenda.

“In my opinion,” he said, “the current board and administration have done a great job overall trying to bring a balanced approach to providing the best possible education while considering the taxpayers.”

Five years after moving to Lyme from Fairlee with his wife, Toulmin said that running for school board now is “another level of being invested in our kids’ education. I look forward to helping out a team of people who are committed to a great school.”

Schiffman cited few changes in the school district’s regular operating budget from the $5.5-million package that voters approved in 2013, other than fewer students to tuition to area high schools, and a slight increase in special-education costs.

On the town side, voters on the floor will consider an operating budget whose bottom line would cost 2.1 percent more overall.

Selectboard Chairman Charles J. Smith said that the budget, plus several separate spending articles on the warrant, will amount to an increase of “1.2 percent overall in the amount the town needs to raise from taxes,” thanks to a growth in revenue that he attributed to “the economy improving a little bit.”

Among articles on the warrant, the town is asking voters to create a zoning district governing development around Holts Ledge, and to appropriate $433,401 to the Capital Reserve and Expendable Trust Funds.

“We’ve got several projects coming up,” Smith said. “We know we’ve got a couple of bridges coming up for replacement.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dacorriveau@gmail.comand at 603-727-3304