Plainfield School Budget OK’d
Full-Day Kindergarten Proposal Is Rejected in 102-62 Vote
Helen Koehler speaks after introducing an amendment to cut $200,000 from the proposed Plainfield school budget during the school meeting at Plainfield Elementary School in Plainfield, N.H., on March 8, 2014. In supporting the amendment, which failed, Koehler suggested that some of the cuts could come from not replacing teachers who will be retiring, though school board chair Chris Forman said that $200,000 in cuts would be "devastating." (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Ballot clerk Elizabeth Lurie fixes fake flowers to a ballet costume during the school meeting at Plainfield Elementary School in Plainfield, N.H., on March 8, 2014. The costume is for a performance of "Sleeping Beauty" by City Center Ballet in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Clockwise from left, Don Jordan, Michelle Marsh, Suellen Leugers and Roanne Rogerson count ballots cast for an amendment introduced by Helen Koehler to cut $200,000 from the proposed Plainfield school budget during the school meeting at Plainfield Elementary School in Plainfield, N.H., on March 8, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Meriden — Residents voted overwhelmingly to approve the budget for Plainfield Elementary School as proposed by the School Board, but rejected a proposal for full-day kindergarten.
By a vote of 154-40, voters approved the $6 million budget. Two amendments, one that would cut funding and one that would increase it, were rejected by large margins. The budget proposed by the School Board was $68,000 less than the current fiscal year, a decrease of 1.1 percent.
The kindergarten proposal was the only of nine articles that voters rejected. The proposal, which called for the expansion of the school’s half-day kindergarten program to full days, was voted down, 102-62, after extensive deliberation.
Before debate on the warned articles began, board Chairman Chris Forman presented a bleak picture of the school’s declining enrollment, and explained its budget implications for the future.
“We are projecting to have significantly fewer people in this building than when I started seven years ago,” Forman said.
The school hired an outside firm to project enrollment in the future. That projection estimates that by the end of the decade, 187 students will attend the school. That number would represent a 39 percent decrease from the 304 students enrolled during the 2003-04 school year.
“For the last (four or five) years, we’ve been managing the budget and staffing, buying time to see if the trend we saw was going in reverse,” Forman said. “We are now collectively at the point where we believe that graph. You need to start making some decisions.” Forman said that next year, per-pupil spending is expected for the first time to eclipse $20,000 — double what it was a decade ago.
Forman said the school could better attract families if it expanded kindergarten from half-day to full-day. He also said the school would benefit from tuition students from Croydon and other towns.
After Forman’s presentation, Moderator Paul Franklin opened debate on the articles on the warrant.
Article II asked voters to approve the school budget. Helen Koehler introduced an amendment to cut $200,000. Koehler objected to increasing per-pupil costs, and argued than many seniors would be left unable to pay their taxes.
“Now we want to spend $20,000 to educate each student?” Koehler asked. “There must be empty rooms down there not being used.” Koehler suggested that unused space in the school could be used to house the town offices and police department.
Superintendent Gregory Vogt disputed Koehler’s assertion that there were unused rooms in the building.
“To my knowledge, there are not six or seven empty rooms,” Vogt said.
Forman spoke in opposition to the amendment.
“There is not a slush fund of $200,000 that exists in this budget,” Forman said, adding that such a cut “would be devastating” to school programs.
After some 30 minutes of debate, voters rejected the amendment, 151-47.
Andrea Keen then rose to propose an amendment that would increase the budget by $40,000, and recommend that those funds be used to increase a teacher from part-time equivalent status to full-time status.
Voters rejected Keen’s amendment, 148-47.
Voters also approved pay increases for support staff and faculty, respectively, as negotiated by the School Board.
Brad Atwater, who said he was self-employed and said his business suffers in hard economic times, objected to teachers getting automatic raises.
“I’m going to vote against both of these articles, because I have a limit on my pocketbook, and I don’t get a guaranteed raise,” Atwater said.
“I had five children who went to this school, and I worried about paying my taxes,” Karen Aldrich said. “I’m 60 now, and I still think education is important and that the teachers work hard.”
After a recess for lunch, voters approved authorizing the creation of a committee to explore enabling Plainfield parents to send their children to schools other than Lebanon. Forman said this school choice may help sway families who are considering moving to Plainfield.
There was more than an hour of debate preceded the vote on expanding the half-day kindergarten to full-day, at a cost of $85,000.
Residents rose both in support of and opposition to the article. Retired teacher Frank Perotti urged his neighbors to vote “yes.”
“Full-time kindergarten is the norm,” Perotti said. “It’s not just competing in the Upper Valley, it’s competing worldwide.”
“I believe that full-time kindergarten should be a thing,” Skylar Aldrich said. “It helps students socially and academically once they get here.”
Other residents disagreed.
“I’m against full-day kindergarten,” Koehler said. “If you look at a 5-year-old, they need to rest and relax.”
Nancy Franklin also opposed the plan, saying the long bus rides — sometimes up to an hour — made a full day too long for kindergartners.
Michelle Marsh, who is also the Plainfield town clerk, said she believed a vote on full-day kindergarten was premature.
“I feel like we’re jumping the gun and there are too many emotions involved,” Marsh said, citing figures printed in the town report indicating that fewer babies have been born in town in recent years, which she said cast doubt on the School Board’s estimation that there will be kindergarten classes of around 20 students for the next several years.
Some voters said they supported full-day kindergarten, but that it was not the right time to add expenses to the budget. In the end, voters rejected the measure by a wide margin.
Many residents left the meeting after Franklin read the results of the vote, which took place at 3:15 p.m., almost 51/2 hours after the meeting began.
The remaining voters passed the last three articles quickly, and moved to adjourn at 3:30.