A Busy Hudson School Deliberative Session Brings in More than 200 Voters

February 9, 2018

by Laurie Jasper

School District Moderator Paul Inderbitzen delayed the scheduled 9 a.m. start of the Hudson School District Deliberative Session on Feb. 3 by 30 minutes to allow the ballot clerks more time to check in the long line of registered voters entering the hall. Moderator Inderbitzen stated that more than 200 people checked in to the deliberative session, a record for a school district meeting during his time as moderator. He reminded everyone to vote on March 13.

Members of Alvirne High School’s Air Force JROTC presented the colors and the Hudson Memorial School Swing Choir performed a beautiful rendition of the national anthem.

Eight deliberative warrant articles were presented in just over five and one-half hours. To review the warrant articles in their entirety, please visit the Hudson School District’s website www.sau81.org and select “2018-2019 Warrant Articles” under “News and Announcements.”

The first two proposed articles pertain to additions and renovations to Alvirne High School. Warrant Article 1 asks voters to raise and appropriate the sum of $25,262,500 for the design, construction, and equipping of additions and renovations to the Wilbur H. Palmer Vocational Technical Center. It authorizes the school board to accept grant(s) of $17,000,000 from the State of New Hampshire and/or federal, state or other aid, authorizes the school board to issue not more than $8,262,500 of bonds or notes for the balance of the project costs, to raise and appropriate $181,603 for the first-year payment on the bond and to take any other action necessary to carry out this vote or pass any other vote relative to this.

A brief video featuring Career and Technical Education current students, alumni and staff was shown. Alvirne Principal Steve Beals then brought the crowd into the way-back machine to 1992, the year the Wilbur H. Palmer Vocational Technical Center opened; Beals was in his second year teaching at Alvirne, and his favorite film, “A Few Good Men,” was in the theaters.

To borrow a phrase from that movie, Beals said, “Today is about you can handle the truth.” Beals explained that there has been a committee working on a renovation proposal for two years, with a goal of learning how CTE can best prepare the future workforce. According to one of the slides presented, the existing CTE needs include, “Improved secure access for students, staff, and visitors, improved secure access to community based programs, space for new and expanded programs and modern utility infrastructure.” There are 17 current CTE programs. Plans would be to incorporate the JROTC under the CTE umbrella, expand welding and fabrication as well as health occupations and add computer science.

Beals said construction would be approximately 28 months in duration. He also explained that, although the $17 million in state contributions is not guaranteed and would come from the next biennium budget, Hudson’s CTE is next on the state renovation list, and every previous center in New Hampshire has received at least 75 percent of the price. “If the state doesn’t give any money, the project is over,” said Beals.

Most residents who approached the microphone spoke in favor of Article 1. Gary Gasdia said he recently toured the CTE with his eighth grade daughter and, “… You just see her education light up,” he said. “This is not the woodshop of the past,” Gasdia continued. Gasdia said he knew how the town would react to this project. “We are on a spiral towards mediocrity; we bred this loser mentality. There’s a civil war in this town,” Gasdia admonished.

Margaret Huard said she had a question for the state representatives. Moderator Inderbitzen determined that there were no representatives in attendance.

Ryan Parren spoke against the article, concerned that the town is out-pricing its citizens and that many elderly, including his grandfather, can’t afford the increases.

Warrant Article 1 was moved to the ballot.

In order for Warrant Article 1 to pass, an affirmative vote from three-fifths of the voters at the March 13 election will be required.

Warrant Article 2 is to raise and appropriate $21,825,000 for additions and renovations to Alvirne High School, if and only if Warrant Article 1 is approved. This article will also require a three-fifths affirmative vote. “These projects are intertwined. Combined they would be the biggest project in the history of Hudson,” Beals said. Alvirne High School was renovated in 1975 after a fire devastated the school in 1974. The proposed upgrades include a 680-seat auditorium, a new gymnasium, enhanced school safety, a new main entrance and administration area, parking lot replacement and safety upgrades, electrical and mechanical work, among many other items. This project would be completed in phases. Beals pointed out that the final payment on the bond for Hills Garrison School is in 2021, and that money would then go toward the payment of this 30-year bond.

The issue of school security soon took center stage. “Safety issues at this school are sickening,” said Mary Joy Gasdia. Gasdia continued, “The reality is there are over 39 open access points that allow people to walk into Alvirne High School. Thirty-nine different ways that I, tomorrow, can walk in and stroll into that school and I’m not buzzed in.” Stating that all parents want their children to be safe and that all the other schools in the district are safe, Gasdia said, “Do you think the people in Sandy Hook were sitting there saying ‘Oh, we’re going to vote that down?’ No, they’d say, ‘Keep your kids safe, because I don’t get to hug mine at night.’”

School Board Vice Chairman Patty Langlais said, “This isn’t about safety, this is about education. Is that school (Alvirne) as safe as it can be right now? Yes, it is. People saying it is not is ridiculous. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Would we all wish it to be better? Of course.” Langlais said they put the projects into two articles to take advantage of the state’s generous funding for CTE and with the awareness of the town’s conservativism.

School board member Stacy Milbouer spoke about the importance of the arts in education, stating the focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education has been amended to include the arts-STEAM.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Ted Luszey moved to amend Article 2 to strike the words, “If and only if Warrant Article 1 passes” to make Article 2 stand alone and not be tied to the outcome of Article 1. Selectman David Morin was in favor of the amendment, stating that if safety is the priority then Article 2 should not need Article 1 to pass for it to be approved. Morin, a retired firefighter, also cautioned to be mindful of what is said in public about building safety.

Several Alvirne alumni spoke in favor of the auditorium project, recalling the difficulties in not having a designated home for theater arts and pointing out that one-fourth of the students at Alvirne are involved in performing arts, which also includes the music programs. “The theater arts share a closet with the custodian. The costumes all smell like urinal cakes, “said Langlais.

Philip McSweeney, a resident since 1966, stated that both articles are necessary. “Back when Mr. Beals was in Alvirne, I remember speaking in front of the audience here (at a deliberative session), and I remember some conservative said the girls in Home Ec. (Economics) have to pay for their own eggs to cook and bake pies and cakes, and I stood up and I spoke and fortunately it didn’t pass. As ridiculous as turning down either of these things (Warrant Articles 1 and 2) – so were the eggs!” McSweeney stated.

After much discussion, the amendment to Article 2 was defeated, and Article 2 was moved to the ballot at approximately 1 p.m.

After a 15-minute break, Inderbitzen presented Article 3 to a smaller crowd of about 75 people.

Warrant Article 3 – The operating budget seeks to raise and appropriate $53,195, 295. This does not include any other warrant article figures. If this article is defeated, the default operating budget would be $53,121,082. Lindsay Benson rose to speak to the budget, pointing out that the cost to educate per pupil in Hudson is $12,998, which is below the state average. Benson said the budget committee reduced the budget by $400,000, removing money from snow plowing, transportation of homeless students which is mandated by law, decreasing the insurance buffer and decreasing the utilities account. However, because she spoke about Article 3, she was not allowed to offer an amendment, so Kristina Young moved to add a total of $327,528 back into the budget: $87,528 for snow plowing, $100,000 for homeless student transportation, $65,000 for gas and $25,000 for electricity. Patty Langlais seconded the motion. School board member Milbouer spoke, “We were very conservative with our budget this year. So, if we do not put the money back in with this amendment, we would have to take that money from somewhere else. This will come out of something that will affect the students.”

Speaking on the amendment, Margaret Huard said she has looked at what has been spent versus what has been requested in the budget, and said, “We could double your budget, and you still wouldn’t get education right.”

Selectman’s alternate representative to the budget committee David Morin spoke against the amendment and asked pointed questions pertaining to the school’s snow plowing contract. Karen Burnell, the school district’s business administrator, said the lowest bid came in for a total of approximately $88,000, which included additional expenditures. Morin asked who took care of the plowing before the current plowing contract. The Town of Hudson did, budgeting $25,000 and hiring an outside contractor to plow the schools; this was done with a verbal agreement with the town for years until 2016.

Morin also asked what equipment for plowing the school district owns. School equipment includes three plow trucks, a bobcat with a snow plow, a snow blower, and a sand truck. Morin said he thinks the town could do the job for $25,000 and $80,000 is being wasted. Burnell said there was a meeting about snow removal after the budget committee took the money from the budget. Superintendent of Schools Larry Russell said there was a meeting, and further stated, “Not only did the town say they had a reduction in staff from 32 to 26, they could no longer do it. They also gave suggestions on how we could do it.”

Russell also said there were conditions that were put on it too, that the school district couldn’t always be assured of salt and sand, couldn’t always be assured when the town could come by or assure of a front-end loader. Budget Committee Vice Chairman Normand Martin stated that from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2017 the town spent approximately $120,000 on plowing, sanding and salting the school properties, while the school district has budgeted for approximately $144,000 for only two years. The body voted to approve the amendment to Article 3, adding $327,528 into the proposed operating budget.

Morin then moved to cut $80,000 from the school’s plowing budget, stating that we know it can be done for less money. That motion failed. Warrant Article 3 moved to the ballot as amended with a new total of $53,522,823.

(See Side Article About Snow Plowing on page 10.)

It was at this point that Ted Luszey questioned why the default numbers on the screen had also changed, correctly stating that the formula for the default is a calculated and fixed number. After a recess, it was determined that there had been a mistake made in the calculation of the original default number that was posted to the warrant. When the budget committee made the cuts to the budget, the monies for snow plowing and transportation for homeless students had been subtracted from the default budget; however, since those are contracted items, they should have remained. There was quite a bit of confusion due to this revelation; School District Attorney Gordon Graham, when asked the legality of changing a default budget that was already posted for the deliberative session, sited RSA 40:13 XI (b), which states, “This amount [the default] shall not be amended by the legislative body. However, this amount may be adjusted by the governing body [the school board], unless the provisions of RSA 40:14-b are adopted, acting on relevant new information at any time before the ballots are printed, provided the governing body, unless the provisions of RSA 40:14-b are adopted, completes an amended default budget form.” The new operating budget is $53,522,823 and, due to calculating errors, the new default budget is $53,197,224, a difference of $325,599.

Warrant Article 4, a negotiated contract for increases in salaries and benefits for 29 full-time and part-time secretaries was moved to the ballot without discussion.

Warrant Article 5, a negotiated contract for increases in salaries and benefits for 31 full- and part-time cafeteria personnel, 118 part-time para-educators and one part-time licensed practical nurse was moved to the ballot. It was stated that there is no tax impact from the food service salaries and benefits, as they are paid through the food service program.

Warrant Article 6 is for a wage increase for the five school board members. Currently the members receive $1,100 per year. If this article passes, it would increase each member’s salary by $2,000 to $3,100 and bring their salaries more in line with those of the board of selectmen ($3,200 per year). Margaret Huard offered an amendment to zero out the dollar amounts in this article, seconded by Fred Giuffrida, but the motion failed. The article was moved to the ballot.

Warrant Article 7 asks to raise and appropriate $185,000 to replace a section of the roof at Hudson Memorial School. This was moved to the ballot.

The final warrant article of the day, Article 8, asks for up to $100,000 be added to the Capital Reserve School Renovation Fund, which was established in 1999, with the sum to come from the June 30 fund balance available for transfer. Patty Langlais said the current fund balance is $81,110 and all withdrawals to expend the funds need voter approval. The article was moved to the ballot.

The meeting adjourned at 3:06 p.m.

Following the deliberative session, the budget committee met to re-vote on each article, with a significant change to Warrant Article 3, the operating budget. While it was recommended by the budget committee 9-2 prior to deliberative session, the re-vote changed to 5-5, with the motion not to recommend based on the failure to pass.