Lebanon OKs school renovations on 4th try, calls to ax campus cop in education-focused elections

  • Lebanon voter Joy Blongewicz leaves City Hall after voting at Ward 3 on Tuesday March, 8, 2022, in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

  • Ward 3 Moderator Jessica Giordani knits and chats with Kim Rheinlander, a supervisor of the checklist, at City Hall in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday March, 8, 2022. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

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    In West Lebanon, N.H., on March 8, 2022, Brian Ware, a supervisor of the checklist in Lebanon's Ward 1, greets voters with "Welcome to the Kilton Library, are you here to vote today?" (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writers
Published: 3/8/2022 10:19:24 PM
Modified: 3/9/2022 10:30:10 PM

LEBANON — The time has come for change at Lebanon schools. Voters approved a $14.34 million bond to renovate Lebanon High School and the Hanover Street School in a 955-533 vote, and called to eliminate the school resource officer program, 811-650, in a nonbinding resolution.

The renovation package finally crested the 60% approval needed fund work at the school with a scaled-back proposal after failing three times in the previous four years.

For Natalie Golden, a longtime Lebanon resident, the renovations are overdue — and the wise financial decision in the long run.

“People are afraid of having their taxes raised, but the needs aren’t going away,” she said outside Kilton Library as she left the polls.

She recalled that Lebanon killed a $19 million plan to build a new high school and renovate other school buildings in 1995. When the final vote count of 1,044-179 was announced, the crowd cheered, according to the Valley News archive.

Tuesday’s vote was the fourth time in five years that Lebanon voters were asked to approve a bond to renovate school buildings. Lebanon will receive a new lobby for security and a music room, and the Hanover Street School will see a new art room and a dedicated cafeteria, among other improvements.

The plan is more modest than its predecessor. A $20.4 million modernization proposal won support from only 56% of voters in 2020, and a bond requires 60% approval. This year, voters approved the bond in a in a 955 to 533 vote, bringing its approval rate to just over 64%.

Taxes were on the mind of some Lebanon voters as they cast their ballots at West Lebanon’s Kilton Public Library, City Hall and the United Methodist Church in Lebanon.

“A public school has to live within its means,” Rick Aldrich said as he walked towards his car. “It’s not like it’s a private school with a big endowment.”

Over the last 40-odd years, Aldrich said, he’s seen his annual property tax climb from about $1,000 to $10,000, and he is against any and all “excessive spending.”

Aldrich said he voted against the article. He was “torn” about another controversial article on the ballot — whether to eliminate the school resource officer program, which has the town and the school district splitting the cost of a full-time armed police officer on campuses. Again, it came down to the money: He did not want to pay for an officer’s salary.

But Greg Stott, of West Lebanon, voted for the renovations even though he feels the sting of property taxes. His wife works at the Hanover Street School, and tells him about the conditions there. He sees the approximately $1,000 they pay in taxes each month as too much.

“It needs an overhaul,” he said of the New Hampshire tax system. “It’s not equitable, district by district. Kids in the same state aren’t getting the same education.”

Two residents who previously voted against the renovation project said they voted in favor of it this time around.

Barbie Hazlett, who was running unopposed for school board treasurer, said that finances and seeing firsthand the crowded offices of SAU 88 played a role in her decision to vote yes.

“I know it’s a lot of money, but every year it goes up,” Hazlett said. “I know those schools are cramped.”

Irene Kacandes said the use of elementary and secondary school emergency relief funds and the district’s reserve fund to pay for the Mount Lebanon School renovations helped sway her decision. That led the proposed bond for Hanover Street School and the high school to be lower than in past years.

“I think it was too high before and now I think it’s in the right range,” Kacandes said.

Some people who voted in favor of the renovation project cited the benefits to the greater community.

Marisa DiBernardo, who graduated from Lebanon High School in 1993 and whose daughter is in first grade at Hanover Street School, voted in favor of the project in part because she said it will encourage more people to move to Lebanon and share the tax burden.

“If you build it they will come,” she said outside the Methodist Church.

DiBernardo also strongly opposes keeping the school resource officer in the school district.

“Get that guy out of there,” she said,

She cited the concerns students of color brought up during community conversations about the SRO position, and pointed to her own experience as a person of color attending Lebanon High School in the Class of 1993.

“I experienced racism,” DiBernardo said. “People think we’re so enlightened up here. We’re not enlightened.”

Meanwhile, at Kilton Library, Sandy Besas and Liam Coyle held up a blue and yellow sign in the muddy lawn urging residents to eliminate the school resource officer program.

“We do not need armed officers walking the hallways,” Coyle said. “Students feel nervous and intimidated — especially students of color.” He argues that the money would be better spent on a qualified social worker.

Both expressed frustration that even if the article passes, it is non-binding and the School Board could still retain the program. Last year, the article to eliminate the position passed by just five votes, but the board decided to keep the program in a 5-4 vote.

But Faith Henricksen, who voted in favor of the school renovations, also voted to keep the SRO at the school because, she said, it helps to have a law enforcement officer familiar with the schools if something such as an instance of violence requires a call to the police.

“My feeling is the school resource officer No. 1 has special training for schools (and) No. 2, they know the schools,” Henricksen said.

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