Present: Albert St.Pierre; Lucien Beam; Steven Dalessio; Joseph Levesque; Mary Henry; Frank Emig; Alan Dustin; Sarah Vogel; Scott Bushway
Absent: William Stahl
Chairman Mr. St.Pierre called the meeting to order at 6:00 PM. He noted that the meetings are recorded.
Motion made to approve the minutes of the July 24, 2019 meeting by Mr. Emig, Second by Mr. Dustin. All in favor. Minutes are accepted as presented.
Report of Subcommittees
Report from Charlestown Terry Spilsbury of the Charlestown Withdrawal Advisory Committee is present. A new template for a withdrawal of Charlestown, with documentation of the source origination of the document, clearly stated on the front cover as an unsolicited proposal by the Charlestown Withdrawal Advisory Committee, is handed out and will be electronically sent to the absent members. This is simply a framework, offered for the School Withdrawal Committee to decide if they want to borrow from it or start from scratch for a report to the State of NH DOE.
Mr. Spilsbury notes that there is a point of confusion regarding the budget. The Charlestown Withdrawal Advisory Committee does not know what is driving the increase so high. There is a dramatic increase, not the expected 2%. This will need to be discussed at the next meeting when Jim Fenn is present. The Charlestown only budget, for FY20, which ends 6/30/20, is $14,064,000.00. The four remaining town’s budget has an estimated total of $20,540,000. The total budget of the district is $34,604,000. That is an increase of over 10%. This is before Withdrawal could happen in 2021, and the district is still whole. This is the anticipated budget if Charlestown is separate, according to Mrs. Henry. Charlestown is part of the district in 2020. Why, then, asks Mr. Spilsbury, is the aggregate 34 million? Mrs. Henry advised that the new numbers are an estimate of Charlestown withdrawing. The Charlestown Withdrawal Advisory Committee hypothesized that the number given to Charlestown would provide a savings to the four remaining towns. However, what is presented is that the cost of separating will cost more. Mr. Dalessio advised that he does not feel that Walpole voters will not pick up an additional $808,000. Mr. Dustin echoed the sentiment for Alstead voters. These numbers will need to be explained, in detail, by Jim Fenn. Mr. Spilsbury agreed, noting that what makes this more dramatic is that the FY21 number, for Charlestown, is estimated at $15,508,000. When the 22 million for the four remaining towns are added in, the total budget is $37,627,000. Another additional 3 million. Why does it change again, with no change to the methodology, in FY21? This does not sound credible. Mrs. Vogel advised that she was under the impression that Mr. Fenn needs to answer these questions. Mr. Spilsbury offered that this is a macro view, and posed the question to the committee, “how is it credible that the budget would increase by $6.4 million dollars in two years?”. Mr. Dalessio would like to have Mr. Fenn for several meetings, as he will not accept the increases without a lot of detailed explanation. Mr. Emig reminded the committee that the School Board needs to ask permission of the Superintendent to allow Jim Fenn to attend the remaining meetings of the School Withdrawal Committee? Mrs. Henry noted that Mr. Fenn has been approved to come to the next meeting.
Motion by Mr. Dalessio, seconded by Mr. Dustin, to ask the business manager, Mr. Fenn, to attend the remaining meetings of the School Withdrawal Committee. All members vote in favor. Mrs Henry will ask the Superintendent to allow Mr. Fenn to participate in all of the remaining meetings of the School Withdrawal Committee.
The committee would like to meet every Wednesday through September, starting with the August 28, 2019 meeting. Mrs Henry will request permission from Mrs. Landry for the presence of Mr. Fenn at each of the remaining meetings. Mr. Emig will not be present September 4 & 11, Mrs. Vogel will be late, Mr. Beam will not be present at the September 11 meeting, and Mr. Levesque will not be present on September 18.
Mr. Dustin asked if Charlestown has a separate budget for presentation? Mr. Spilsbury offered that a budget is a product of the Charlestown School Board and not something the committee would presume to put together. That school board will be created during the transition giving them time to create a budget. We are currently under the current budget and the budget that will be presented in this coming winter. We think a 2% increase is feasible — but if that is not what happens, then we would expect all the five town’s voters to vote down that budget. Mr. Dustin feels that a number should be presented by Charlestown. Mr. Spilsbury noted that a macro level target budget will be presented, rather than specific target decisions that will have to be made by the future school board. Mr. Beam asks how the education committee can make a decision about the impact on education, without a Charlestown budget? Mr. Spilsbury notes that we do not know what decisions are going to be made by the future board. We are making a commitment to the same educational program that we have in place now. We have a roster of ideas that will increase the quality of education in Charlestown, however, these are not things for this district wide committee. Charlestown has one of the worst educational ratings and quality in the state of NH, and demonstrably numerically worse than any of the other towns in this district. We are very motivated to improve the education of the children in Charlestown. It is not just a dollars game — it is about aligning the dollars and our resources in a way that is impactful and effective. Mr. Dalessio appreciates the synopsis as given by Mr. Spilsbury. However, he wonders if the district is unsustainable if there is an imbalance of student population — that something is wrong when there is a larger population of students in one town. If Walpole becomes the biggest, are the methods valid any more? Mrs. Henry agrees that the methods are already skewed. Mr. Dustin noted that this is exactly why we are all sitting here. Charlestown has been in that position for decades. Mr. Spilsbury agrees. He noted that the town of Charlestown has tried to change the formulas as they do not work for Charlestown.
Mr. St.Pierre states “Charlestown wants out”. Mrs Henry feels she is looking out for the remaining town’s when asking for specific numbers. Mrs. Vogel clarified that the committee will decide if they will vote to make the decision. Mr. Dustin asked how much scrutinization will the state DOE take on the numbers? Mrs. Henry said that the state will take into account the committee’s recommendation. Mr. Dustin notes that no voter will vote for the increase. Mr. Dustin states his appreciation for what Charlestown is trying to do. Mr. Dalessio states that if all the things are true in the reports, then the numbers being presented are suspect. How does this committee vet the numbers? Mary Henry gave the numbers to another business administrator. Mr. Dalessio does not feel that it is appropriate for a personally known entity review the numbers. Mr. Beam noted that the action to put numbers in front of an outside party was within the budget subcommittee.
Mr. St.Pierre pulled out a report from 1985 that reported that Charlestown was paying more than its fair share. In 1998, a report showed that the formula is unbalanced. The 2002 change created chaos. Mrs. Henry claimed knowledge of a letter signed by Mr. St.Pierre in favor of the 2002 change. Mr. St.Pierre would like to see said letter. Mrs. Henry will produce it. Mr. St.Pierre stated that change needs to happen — we have been having the same argument for 52 years. Charlestown will take the increased number. Let us fight for our own town instead of within all the town’s. It does not matter what the numbers are. We can stop this argument. Something is wrong. There is no where else for Charlestown to go — we have the HIGHEST school taxes in the state. The town of Charlestown is asking for this committee to do something about it. Mrs. Vogel notes the argument is with each other instead of to the state. Mr. Dalessio goes back to the numbers. He hears suggestions about reducing costs, and that never seems to get through to the budget committees. The purpose is to look for better ways. Local control of school boards is coming. Mr. Dalessio gave the example that Walpole asked if they could add to Walpole’s budget and not affect other town’s, Mr. Fenn said that CANNOT happen as it would affect the other town’s, based on the methods. Mr. Dustin noted that this could be done with local control.
Mr. Beam wonders if the taxpayers of Charlestown have an expectation of a reduction? Mr. Beam feels that every town should have the right to make their own decisions, however, he is concerned that the budget will be dramatically higher than Charlestown anticipates. It is a dilemma. Mr. Spilsbury wonders if he should forecast what the charlestown voters will do? He believes that they will trust the committee and the school board that they elect. They want a lid on the costs. A 2% increase is a number that can be given to the voters of Charlestown, and they will be ok. The Charlestown Committee is aware that Special Education costs cannot be predicted, down the line, but there are so many other things we can make choices on IF we are given the opportunity. Mr. Spilsbury suggests that the committee not worry about what Charlestown will pay. The only way to find out is to allow Charlestown the freedom to make value judgements for itself. Mrs. Henry feels that this will be at the cost of everyone else. Mr. Beam feels the importance of understanding the impact on the remaining town’s. Mr. Spilsbury suggests that the remaining town’s should be concerned with the remaining town’s, and not with the budget of Charlestown. Perhaps the answer is to vote us down and keep us captive. Or the answer is to grapple with the genuine issue that the school board does not address. Mr. Spilsbury offers that the withdrawal plans approved by the State DOE do not have a budget included. The state does not ask for any. The DOE wants to know what are the commitments of the town’s to the education of their students. Goshen did not even state where they were sending their students for HS. Scott Wade, Charlestown, notes that the DOE website has minutes posted that include discussion of withdrawal plans. Mr. Wade clarifies that in a few withdrawal plans that he has read, he noted that the DOE asks simple questions, such as “Are the guidelines met?” If the withdrawal committee approved it, and the committee was complete, then the board will approve.
Mr. Dustin conjectures that if the articles of agreement could be changed to truly put each town in charge of its own K-8 perhaps all the towns will be happier? Mr. StPierre asks if 100% Equalized Value at the high school would be accepted?
Mr. Levesque wonders if Winchester was a part of another district? Mrs. Henry says that they are not better off now that they are out of the Monadnock District. Winchester is at the mercy of wherever they send their high school kids to.
Mr. Dalessio wonders why each town shouldn’t educate special ed kids? Mrs. Vogel notes that the cooperative evens out the cost — sometimes pay in and sometimes benefit.
Charlestown will present a macro budget to the committee, not a line by line budget, at the September 11 meeting.
Motion to adjourn made by Mr. Emig, second by Mr. Beam. All present vote in the affirmative. Meeting is adjourned at 7:15 pm.