Mascenic School Board recommends against budget proposal

Mascenic Regional High School

Mascenic Regional High School FILE PHOTO

The Mascenic Regional School Board's recommendations for the regional school district election March 12.

The Mascenic Regional School Board's recommendations for the regional school district election March 12. —COURTESY PHOTO


Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 02-21-2024 9:06 AM

Modified: 02-22-2024 10:41 AM

This article has been changed from the original version. Although the Mascenic Regional School Board does not recommend the passage of the proposed budget, the adoption of a local tax cap, the creation of a School Budget Committee and eliminating the district’s superintendent position, the item referring to the $1 million cut to the proposed budget as “devastating” to schools and “misguided and extremely detrimental to our schools and our children” is something individual board members can distribute on their own without district resources.

The Mascenic School Board is not recommending passage of the proposed district budget March 12.

During Mascenic’s deliberative session Feb. 7, residents in attendance voted in a $1 million cut to the budget, approving a final number of approximately $20.45 million for the ballot in March. The School Board voted 4-0 to not recommend passage. Failure would put in place the default budget, consisting of the current budget plus contracted increases and minus one-time expenses

The default budget this year is set at approximately $21.15 million, which is still $307,182 less than the budget initially proposed by the School Board.

“It’s counterintuitive to vote no on the budget,” said Superintendent Christine Martin during Monday’s School Board meeting.

The board also does not recommend passage of three articles submitted by petition: a 1.2% tax cap on future budget increases, creation of a School Budget Committee and eliminating the district’s superintendent position. All were 5-0 votes. The tax cap requires a three-fifths vote to pass.

During the meeting, the board was given a list of potential cuts that could be made to meet the default number, after district officials and School Board Chair Rachel Anderson reviewed them the previous week, following deliberative session. The list included cutting four positions across the district and reduction of programs and electives at the high school, including potentially eliminating Advanced Placement and honors classes. Due to less flexibility, there would also likely be an increase in class sizes, impacting primarily elementary students.

There is the possibility of fewer support personnel and elimination of enrichment activities such as field trips, or requiring field trips to be paid for fully by families. Also under discussion is reduction in availability of building usage, including the elimination of fee-free usage for community groups such as town recreation departments, and fee-based participation to co-curricular and athletic activities for students.

The district could forego planned projects, including Alternative Pathways to Completion items such as work-based learning expansion, extended learning opportunity expansion, expansion of credit recovery and test preparation for high school completion exams.

Anderson said she found the “tone” at the deliberative session “disappointing.”

“I’m just not sure where we go from here to bridge that divide, because there are certain things that have come up that I don’t think are bridgable,” Anderson said. “I think there are some people coming after the budget for less-than-honest reasons, or indeed doing it for hateful reasons. But we’re in it to win it for the kids, so let’s keep our focus on that.”

Anderson said the experience of attempting to create a budget that would fit the default “wasn’t a pleasant meeting by any means,” but praised all those involved in their attempts to create a proposal that had the least amount of impact on children, saying that was the focus.

“It’s never easy, and I had to keep reminding myself in my head, we need to make cuts no matter what. Something has to give. The best-case scenario now is we’ll be in a default budget,” Anderson said.

While the board was given access to the proposed cuts, and had the opportunity to provide feedback on them, members did not discuss them in detail. Greenville board representative Tom Falter said he was hesitant to discuss the cuts in public session, and said he was not prepared to make any decision on what cuts to make during Monday’s meeting.

Separate from the recommendations, a flyer created by two board members to distribute on their own characterized a $1 million cut to the proposed budget as “devastating” to schools, and that it would result in the elimination of 10 staff positions and a “complete cut” of all funding for extracurriculars and athletics. The mailer estimated the tax savings of the $1 million cut  would be $12.75 per month for New Ipswich and $15.92 per month for Greenville, on a property valued at $300,000.

The flyer also urges residents to vote no on the tax cap on future budget increases, the School Budget Committee and eliminating the superintendent position.

The flyer indicates that if the 1.2% cap were in place, it would have required a $1.1 million cut to the original budget and not cover mandated increases approved by voters such as the collective bargaining agreement for teachers, or allow the district to accommodate increases in health insurance rates, which this year spiked over 9%, and are out of the district’s control.

The district currently has a budget advisory committee made up of non-elected members of the public who provide recommendations on the budget to the School Board, which makes the ultimate decisions related to setting the budget. The petition article would create a budget committee that would have the authority to set the budget.

On the elimination of the superintendent position, the flyer says the proposal was “ill advised” and that they superintendent’s duties “simply cannot be handed off to existing staff, who are already asked to do more with less,” and that there are no other administrators in the district who have the certification required by law to do the duties of the superintendent. The district is required by law to fill certain responsibilities of a superintendent.

The flyer concluded, “The petition warrant articles and amended budget put forth by this small group of community members are misguided and extremely detrimental to our schools and our children.”

The district has two upcoming public hearings on the issue of the tax cap proposal, as required by law. The district will hold a public hearing for Greenville residents on Thursday, Feb. 22, at 6 p.m. at the SAU offices, and for New Ipswich residents on Friday, Feb. 23, at 6 p.m. at the Mascenic Regional High School. Both hearings will also be livestreamed and archived on the MRSD Board YouTube channel.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172, Ext. 244, or She’s on X @AshleySaariMLT.