No changes to ConVal reconfiguration plan
Published: 02-07-2024 1:01 PM
Modified: 02-09-2024 4:18 PM
Multiple attempts to amend or strike the warrant article that would close Francestown Elementary School, Dublin Consolidated School, Pierce School in Bennington and Temple Elementary School failed at the district deliberative session Tuesday night.
About 350 residents attended the nearly three-hour session, with dozens of residents of Dublin, Bennington, Temple and Francestown coming forward to express concerns that the proposal to close schools would devastate their towns and communities.
The existing ConVal Articles of Agreement, written in 1967, state that the district is required to maintain elementary schools in every town in the district except Sharon, which has sent students to Peterborough schools since 1920. The proposed amendment to the articles would require the district to maintain schools only in Peterborough, Antrim, Greenfield and Hancock.
The article requires a two-thirds vote across the district at the March 12 election to pass. If it does pass, starting in 2025-2026, students from Temple, Francestown, Dublin and Bennington would have the choice of attending the two next closest elementary schools in the district.
Alan Edelkind, School Board representative from Dublin and chair of the Strategic Organization Committee, said that if the reconfiguration plan passes, the entire 2024-2025 school year will be dedicated to studying and preparing for possible reconfiguration in 2025-2026.
“The goal of reconfiguration is to expand educational opportunities, to improve student outcomes, to provide more opportunities for our students,” Edelkind said.
Alan Pickman of Temple was the first member of the public to speak against the plan.
“This will especially harm children from Temple, especially kindergarteners and first- and second-graders. It will be harmful for the to be on the bus for an hour or two hours every day,” Pickman said.
Pickman submitted an amendment to add “and Temple” to the list of towns retaining elementary schools. The vote, which was taken by secret ballot, failed at a vote of 300-21.
Steven Chamberlin of Francestown proposed an amendment to the Articles of Agreement that would read: “ConVal may maintain elementary schools in all eight towns.”
“I believe that equity across our region is critical. This would put all eight towns on equal footing as far as reconfiguration,” Chamberlain said.
The motion failed by a secret ballot vote of 131-92.
Tom Merrill of Francestown, after thanking the School Board for their service, expressed his concern that the impact of reconfiguration on the four towns had not been studied adequately, and made a motion to strike the article from the warrant. The district counsel, Dean Eggert of Wadleigh, Starr & Peters, explained that striking a warrant article was not permitted at a deliberative session.
A final proposed amendment, submitted by Michelle Foisy of Temple, would have altered the phrase “shall maintain elementary schools” to “will maintain elementary schools.” It failed on a secret ballot vote by a 114-91 count. Foisy also proposed altering the language in the phrase about middle schools, but District Moderator Bob Edwards disallowed the motion.
“We can only talk about the elementary schools in this amendment,” Edwards said.
Serena Berube of Peterborough spoke against any proposed attempts to strike or nullify the article.
“If we take away this amendment, we take away the voters right to vote. This needs to go a vote in March, and we need to give the voters a chance to decide,” Berube said.
Of the 13 proposed warrant articles, only the reconfiguration and the ConVal operating budget prompted any public discussion.
The proposed budget for the 2024-2025 school year is approximately $58.4 million, a 4.5% increase. Jim Frederickson, School Board representative from Sharon and chair of Budget and Property Committee, said the bulk of the increase was due to costs outside the district’s control, including an increase of $1.75 million in the cost of employee health plans. Other increased costs included propane, transportation, heating oil and special education.
“The budget is very lean. There was not a lot we could cut,” Frederickson said.
Frederickson noted that due to a “scrivener’s error,” the default budget in the printed materials for the deliberative session was inaccurate. The actual default budget, to be invoked if the budget fails at the ballot box, is approximately $57.7 million.
Before starting the deliberative session, School Board Chair Dick Dunning asked the crowd to stand and recognize Edwards, along with Greenfield representative Katherine Heck and Temple representative Liz Swann for their years of service to the ConVal School Board. None will seek re-election this year.
The ConVal School Board will host a community hearing about reconfiguration Thursday, Feb. 8, at 7:30 p.m. in the Lucy Hurlin Theater at ConVal High School. The reconfiguration proposal is available at schoolboard.convalsd.net/conval-consolidation-reconfiguration.
The complete ConVal warrant for March 12 is available at schoolboard.convalsd.net/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2024/01/Warrant-20240124.pdf.