Croydon OKs Budgets, Not Kindergarten
Jim Peschke speaks out against adding two more days of kindergarten during the Croydon School Meeting, in Croydon, N.H., on March 16, 2014.
Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
David Brothers speaks in favor of adding two more days of kindergarten during the Croydon School Meeting, in Croydon, N.H., on March 16, 2014.
Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
Just before the start of the School Meeting co-chair of the school board, Angi Beaulieu speaks with moderator Willis Ballou in Croydon, N.H., on March 16, 2014.
Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
Croydon — Voters adopted both their town and school budgets Saturday, but rejected a proposal to expand full-day kindergarten from three to five days.
Nine articles passed as warned at Town Meeting, while one passed after an amendment. Except for the police budget, all votes were unanimous.
Around 50 residents attended the meeting, held at Croydon Town Hall.
Voters OK’d the proposed general budget that totaled $387,400, with most of that amount comprising the highway budget, which totaled $165,000.
Resident Wayne Maynard questioned what department would pay to maintain the town’s police cruiser.
“The highway department would do maintenance, but any parts and repairs would be done from the police department budget,” said Town Clerk Charleen Little, adding that the highway budget is used only to maintain roads.
Police Chief Richard Lee expressed concern that he would not have control over his own department’s budget.
“What if the cruiser is sent to someone I arrested three weeks prior?” Lee asked.
Road Agent David Hooley said the highway department can make most minor repairs, and that he would consult with Lee before sending a vehicle to an outside vendor for maintenance.
“I will confer with Richard to see about sending it out to a different shop, to see if he’s OK with that,” Hooley said.
Selectboard member Ronald Leslie said the town saves money by having the highway crew maintain the police vehicle, as they bill only for parts and not labor.
Article IV asked voters to appropriate $10,000 for the Capital Reserve Fund for town revaluation, a process that most be undertaken every five years. Little said the amount on the warrant would not be sufficient to pay for the cost of revaluation, and proposed the amount be doubled to $20,000.
Residents unanimously approved both the amendment and the amended article.
During discussion of the last article on the warrant, which asked voters to appropriate $40,523 for the Croydon Police Department, Moderator Willis Ballou read a petition signed by five citizens requesting that the vote on the police budget be done by secret ballot instead of voice vote.
Leslie proposed an amendment to honor that request, but voters unanimously rejected it.
Ballou then put the article to a voice vote, and all but one resident voted “Aye.” Residents voted to adjourn at 10:30 a.m.
Sixty-eight voters attended Saturday’s elementary school meeting, which convened at 1 p.m.
Debate on five articles, plus numerous amendments, lasted more than three hours and grew heated at times.
In the end, voters rejected a proposal for full-time kindergarten, decreased raises for faculty and staff and entertained motions to slash special education spending.
Residents opted to skip Article III, which sought a $16,000 appropriation to fund the first year of a five-year lease for a new school bus. Voters then moved to discuss Article IV before the other items on the warrant.
This article, which would have expanded the kindergarten program at the school from three full days per week to five full days, generated much debate. Amanda Leslie, who drafted the article, distributed a flier to voters that extolled the benefits of full-time kindergarten.
Cost estimates provided by the district business manager stated moving the part-time kindergarten teacher to full time would cost taxpayers an additional $44,000. The current salary and benefits for the teacher, who has yet to be hired, total $16,143. Increasing the position to full time would raise that number to $60,549.
Gayle Hedrington introduced a motion to pass the article over, arguing the cost of expanding to full-time kindergarten was not listed on the meeting warrant, and therefore voters not present at the meeting were uninformed.
Christine Almstrom said it is citizens’ obligation to attend the meeting if they wish to participate in town decisions.
“Everyone knows when Town Meeting is, whether they’re here or not,” she said.
David Brothers spoke in favor of expanding kindergarten.
“No one talks about what the kids’ needs are,” Brothers said. “If it costs $44,000, so what? They need proper education in a stress-free school environment.”
Cathy Peshke said parents, not taxpayers, should bear the burden of education costs.
“It’s the parents’ responsibility to educate kids, not the community,” she said.
Other residents argued there is little evidence that says full-time kindergarten is best for children in the long run.
By voice vote, residents adopted the motion to not consider the article that would expand kindergarten to full-time, essentially killing the proposal until next year. Voters in Plainfield rejected a similar proposal for full-time kindergarten at their school meeting March 8.
Ballou then directed discussion to Article I, which asked voters to approve the proposed budget for the school.
As warned, the draft budget totaled $1,257,191. Ballou read each line item, and asked for voter input.
Dave Shackett introduced a motion to reduce the proposed salary increase for full-time faculty from 3 percent to 1.6 percent, which he said was about the same as the Social Security Administration cost of living adjustment for this year. This would cut the total budget by around $2,000.
Leslie urged those at the meeting to reject the amendment, saying it would render the school unable to keep teachers from seeking higher salaries elsewhere.
“Both of our teachers, who have been here two years, have gone above and beyond,” Leslie said. “The teachers we previously had were good teachers, but they both left for higher-paying districts.”
Superintendent Irwin Sussman praised the teachers at Croydon Village School and cautioned against making their salaries uncompetitive with other schools.
“These people do an outstanding job,” Sussman said. “To refill a position is costly and time-consuming, and it is an interruption to a child’s education.”
Bev Lapionte said she had a son with special needs, and feared that a high rate of turnover for teachers would be detrimental to his education.
“It he doesn’t get a basic education, he’ll fall through every crack there is for the rest of his life,” Lapointe said.
Jim Peschke said he didn’t think teachers deserved a 3 percent raise, saying, “1.5 percent is a decent raise. It’s better than none. … This blackmail of 3 percent is silly.”
After a voice vote was inconclusive, the amendment to decrease teacher raises passed on a show of hands. Residents also voted to decrease the proposed increases of the other paid staff at the school from 3 percent to 1.6 percent.
Leslie then introduced an amendment to increase the salary of the part-time kindergarten teacher from $15,000 to $18,000, which voters rejected.
Jim Peschke then proposed an amendment to cut the special education line item by 84 percent, to $28,400 from $172,859. He argued this section of the budget lacked oversight and was an inefficient use of taxpayer money, since it mostly benefited a single student.
“We could send the student to MIT and still pocket the rest of the money,” Peschke said. “It’s high time we deny this funding until it is explained.”
School Board member Jody Underwood expressed concern that if voters refused to appropriate the funds, the school may still get billed for the services.
“I think it’s reckless,” School Board secretary Emily Owens said. “If you cut it, your taxes will go down, but the money will still be spent if you can’t place the child somewhere else.”
Voters rejected the amendment, and also said no to a similar amendment by Jim Peschke that would have eliminated the entire $40,000 budgeted for the transportation of special education students.
After the review of the line items was complete, residents passed an amended budget, which totaled $1,254,604.
Debate then began on Article II, which asked voters to contribute $100,000 to the capital reserve fund for special education.
That article was adopted after voters reduced the contribution to $50,000.
The final article debated, Article V, asked voters to rescind the School Board’s authority to spend money from a capital reserve fund earmarked for special education.
Voters adopted this article as warned, meaning the School Board must convene a special meeting and gain the consent of a majority of voters in order to use money from that fund.