Time to Grow at Mascoma? High School Renovations on Warrant
Mascoma Valley Regional High School first-year English teacher Jessica Kinzie moves between classrooms with her cart of teaching supplies. Teachers at the school have to move from one classroom to another during the day. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Mascoma High School students L-R Collin Labine a sophomore and Jordan Bender a senior Êwork in close proximity in the wood shop at the school on Wednesday. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »
Mascoma High School teacher Koby Vanbeest points someone out in the library at the school, in between his classes he goes to the library since he does not have his own classroom. Vanbeest teaches english and science and has been teaching at the school for eighteen years. He pushes his books and papers around in a cart from class to class.
Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »
Donlon Wade, a student assistance counselor, uses an office that was once a closet. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Mascoma High School teacher Koby VanBeest works in the school library during his planning period because he does not have his own classroom. VanBeest has been teaching at the school for 18 years. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Ballot voting for all articles for the Mascoma Valley Regional School District will take place on Tuesday, March 12, in each of the five towns: Canaan fire station from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Dorchester Town Hall from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Whitney Hall in Enfield from 8 a.m to 7 p.m.; Grafton fire station from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Orange Town House from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
West Canaan — When the bell rings at Mascoma Valley Regional High School, Skip Chalker grabs his American literature books and heads to his next class. But Chalker isn’t a student — he’s a teacher without a classroom.
During each passing period, teachers maneuver through the crowded hallways pushing carts full of worksheets and books.
Chalker has his own desk in one classroom and he has a closet in the room where he keeps his stack of Frankenstein and Twelfth Night. But the classroom is not his own and he rarely teaches in that room.
Chalker has worked at Mascoma High for 15 years, but at a school where there are about 40 teachers and only 27 classrooms, seniority doesn’t guarantee your own classroom.
“I plan to teach for at least 10 more years, and during that time, I would like to teach for at least a few years where I have my own classroom. That’s my goal. That’s my dream,” Chalker said with a slight laugh.
Even teachers lucky enough to have their own classroom are typically pushed out during their preparation period to make room for another a teacher. During any given period, teachers fill chairs in the library while their classroom is used by a colleague.
Overcrowding is one of the primary reasons the School Board is asking residents for approval to borrow $21.8 million to renovate the high school. The proposal calls for expanding the school from 27 to 39 classrooms, including new music and art classrooms and construction of a performing arts auditorium, among other improvements.
Residents also will vote on a $21.8 million school budget proposal, and there is a School Board race between two Grafton residents, one who supports the renovation proposal and one who doesn’t.
Koby VanBeest pushes a small shopping cart through the Mascoma High hallways. He’s been teaching science at the high school for 18 years, and while he once had his own classroom years ago, he’s since lost it.
His cart holds a milk crate full of file folders and a wooden shelf that a student crafted for him in shop class. On the cart’s handlebars are bicycle bells that he rings as he moves through the halls.
Student assistance counselor Donlon Wade’s office is as roomy as a storage closet, because it used to be one. Next to his office is another closet-sized room used for piano practice. It’s not unusual for a student to be confiding in Wade about relationships troubles or alcohol and drug problems while another student bangs on the keys next door.
School officials contend that the renovation would create a better learning environment for students. But it’s also about faculty retention, according to Superintendent Patrick Andrew — a renovated school facility would go a long way to attracting and keeping good teachers.
“I can get teachers to take less pay, but not if the conditions are bad,” Andrew said. “A lot of teachers start here, stay here a few years and then go. They come back here and say, ‘I loved it here,’ but at the new school, they get their own classrooms.”
The average salary for Mascoma district teachers is just under $49,000, about $5,000 less than the statewide average.
The renovations proposal is nearly identical to the one last year that garnered support from 56.4 percent of voters, shy of the 60 percent majority required for passage. It cleared the three-fifths supermajority in Enfield and Canaan, but polled at under 50 percent in Grafton, Orange and Dorchester.
In 2008, voters rejected a $39.5 million plan to build a new high school.
Voters on Tuesday will face a complex warrant that includes the renovation proposal, school budget, a teachers contract and a $2 million article for energy efficiency upgrades at all four district schools.
The proposed $21.8 million operating budget is about $380,000 more than this year’s budget, an increase of 1.8 percent attributable in part to higher tuition at the Hartford Area Career & Technology Center, where Mascoma students attend vocational training classes. The school also is facing between 2 and 3 percent increases for retirement costs, and medical and dental insurance went up about 1 percent, business administrator George Caccavaro said.
The amount to be raised in property taxes will rise considerably, however, from nearly $11 million in the current budget to $13.6 million in the proposed budget. The increase is partially due to a drop in funding from the state, Caccavaro said. Caccavaro said he did not calculate estimated tax impacts for each of the five towns on either the budget or the renovation.
There is also a $2 million energy efficiency bond that could reduce the cost of the proposed budget and the renovation bond. The energy efficiency upgrades would be provided by Wisconsin-based Johnson Controls and would update lighting, insulation and windows at all four schools, as well as add a new wood burning boiler system at each school. If the article passes, it would cut $130,000 out of next year’s operating budget and keep the renovation bond at $21.8 million. If the article fails and the renovation bond passes, officials plan to fold the energy components into the renovation project, bumping the cost up to $23.8 million.
Enfield resident Bob Cusick voted against the renovation last year, as well as the bond for the new school in 2008, but this year, he’s changed his mind after looking at the project in detail.
Cusick and a friend crunched numbers and came up with a projected tax impact for the district. The projections have not been confirmed by the school district.
Cusick contends that the renovation will increase property values, and that a typical homeowner will pay around 70 to 80 cents a day in additional taxes if the project is approved.
Based on Cusick’s projections, residents won’t see a tax impact during the first year. In the second year, Cusick estimates that the owner of a $200,000 property in Enfield would pay $75 to pay back the bond issue that will fund the renovation.
In year three, the cost will increase to about $198 on a $200,000 home, and by the fifth year, the impact will be about $205. Cusick expects that the impact will level off after the fifth year and residents in Enfield will pay about $205 for the life of the bond repayment, which likely would be 20 or 25 years.
The tax impact would be higher in the district’s other four towns, according to Cusick. By year five, residents in Canaan and Grafton could see an additional $287 on a $200,000 home, according to his calculations. Residents in Dorchester could see an additional $257, and Orange homeowners could see an additional $317.
Many residents don’t feel like the project is affordable. Lester Hall, of Enfield, voted against the renovation proposal last year and said he plans to vote no again this year because he and his wife, Nancy, are retired and their income is fixed.
“It’s a lot of expense,” Hall said. “It wouldn’t be the end of the world, but I wouldn’t like it too much. It’s an inconvenience that we’ll have to pay.”
School Board Race
Incumbent Brewster Gove is running for a one-year term to represent Grafton on the School Board. Gove was appointed to the position last summer and wasn’t available for an interview because of a death in the family. Fellow School Board member Cookie Hebert said Gove is a supporter of the renovation and worked to set up informational meetings in each of the towns.
His opponent is 53-year-old Bob Constantine, a self-described libertarian who has been active in Free State Project causes and who has lived in Grafton since 2006. Constantine was arrested at his Grafton home in 2009 and later found guilty of possession of marijuana. He served 40 days in jail.
Constantine said he’s running for School Board to help encourage cost savings, and he said he would not take a stipend if he’s elected. He said he thinks the current education model is outdated and that schools should do more to utilize technology, perhaps creating smaller “learning centers” in each town instead of sending students to one large school.
Constantine said he doesn’t support the renovation because he doesn’t think it’s wise to spend millions of dollars on infrastructure on an outdated school model.
“I just want to get the conversation going. I don’t have all the answers,” Constantine said.
There is also a teachers contract that reconfigures annual step increases, which reward teachers for experienced gained. On the step scale, the first three steps will be removed and three steps will be added to the top. The final step will increase from $61,000 to $65,000, Caccavaro said
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3223.