Town Meeting 2021: Mascoma school district cruises through deliberative session

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/6/2021 9:48:48 PM
Modified: 2/6/2021 9:48:47 PM

WEST CANAAN — Perhaps it was because the proposed budget called for a less than 1% increase. Or maybe it was because there was no controversial, costly item under consideration for spending. Or perhaps it was simply the pandemic keeping people from attending a public meeting.

But whatever the cause, Saturday morning’s deliberative session for the Mascoma Valley Regional School District’s proposed budget breezed by in 45 minutes, with nine warrant articles to be presented to voters, most eliciting no questions or discussion.

“We had the concern with the renovation of the high school a few years ago,” said Scott Sanborn, chair of the District Budget Committee, referring to a $21.5 million renovation of Mascoma Valley Regional High School that went before Mascoma voters four times before it was approved.

“I think we’ve earned our quiet now this time,” he said following the meeting.

The fewer than three dozen voters who attended Saturday’s morning’s deliberative session overwhelmingly approved the district’s proposed $29.5 million spending plan for the March 9 ballot, which Sanborn described as a “very responsible budget” with an increase of less than 1% and actually below the default budget of $29.7 million that is tied to last year’s approved budget.

Mascoma Valley Regional School District comprises member towns Canaan, Dorchester, Enfield, Grafton and Orange.

Sanborn, an Orange resident and licensed land surveyor, explained that the modest proposed spending increase stems from higher non-discretionary costs such as health insurance, a state requirement for the district to fund a larger portion of retirement costs, and salary increases locked into the second year of the teachers’ contract.

The district has been able to hold down discretionary spending by not filling open positions created by retirement, Sanborn said, especially now that COVID-19 has made an ongoing enrollment decline even greater.

“We have 40 to 45 elementary school students who are not enrolled because they are being home-schooled,” Sanborn said.

Voters also agreed to place on the ballot three articles that call for transferring money from the reserve fund into designated funds for facilities upgrades, decennial school accreditation expenses and for cafeteria equipment.

Another article that will go on the March ballot would increase the district’s undesignated fund balance to the equivalent of 5% of the district’s net assessment in any year (currently it is limited to 2.5% of the net assessment), which other districts like Claremont have done to provide a “contingency fund.” State legislation adopted last year now allows school boards greater discretion in how the money is spent, provided public hearings are held in advance.

Tim Josephson, vice chair of the School Board who represents Canaan, said increasing the percentage will help to offset “tax rate spikes,” describing it as a “tool to reduce volatility,” while Sanborn said it would also “help us control increases and wide swings in the budget.”

The only article that drew more than passing questions and discussion from voters who were present was Article 9, which calls for dissolving the district’s Facilities Long Range Planning Fund, which has a balance of $15,600, and returning the money to the district’s undesignated fund.

A handful of voters expressed concern and asked why the district would want to dissolve a fund whose purpose is to assist with “long-range planning.”

But both Josephson and district business administrator Debra Ford explained that the fund, which was established in 2009, applied only to building facilities needs at the time but has become obsolete after completion of the high school renovation and other facilities projects.

They said that if voters wanted a planning fund for other long-range issues, it would require establishing a new fund.

Voting by Australian ballot on the Mascoma Valley Regional School District warrant articles — including election of school district officers — will occur at designated locations in each of five member towns on Tuesday, March 9.

Contact John Lippman at

Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784


© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy