School Board Deliberative Better Attended than Last Week’s Town Session

February 13, 2015

by Len Lathrop

When you arrive at the deliberative session, you should know that the elected officials have worked for months to ask the voter to support what they believe is the best course of action for the students of our town. There have been three to four months of planning and posturing.  It was not as cold outside this Saturday as it was the previous week when just a few souls gathered to pass the town warrant on to the election of March 10.  Maybe it was the warm temperature of 18 degrees or the fact that it wasn’t snowing at that minute, but the Community Center had 128 people there. We also know that on the first vote of the day there were 58 voting for the amendment to article one and 51 voting against.

The petition bond article, by law, must be first on the ballot; in some years, a majority of elected state officials found that to be important. Well, that’s where the meeting got under way. First the JROTC Corp from Alvirne of Kevin Harkeins, Erica Carreau, Devon Ruiter and Jake Dunkie posted the colors, and Brianna Thompson and MacKenzie Catanzaro sang the national anthem.  Watching these students perform flawlessly was rewarding knowing that they are the future.

As it was a petition article, Michelle Rourk and Michelle Ricco Janos spoke about the article that, if approved, would be funded by a ten-year bond borrowing $1.88 million to replace the James Sullivan track and the Veteran Memorial field at Alvirne High School, with additional improvement to the stadium complex. The petitioner presented the current disrepair of the 23-year-old complex and the plans for a new artificial surface reducing the ‘crown’ on the field from 4 percent to the recommended 1.5 percent.  This field renovation began at the high school this fall and was presented to the school board in late 2014. The school debated the issue over several meetings and elected not to bring this to the ballot this year.  While they collectively agreed that it needs to be done, it wasn’t ready for the ballot.

With over the required 25 signatures it came back to the ballot.  However, the first stop was a public hearing in front of the school board where, once again, it was not recommended, with the same rationale, it is not ready.  It is understood that the project needs more time.  The article went to the budget committee who also felt it was not ready for the voters. On Saturday, Ted Trost motioned to move the $1.88 million amount to zero, which was seconded by Joyce Goodwin.  With a voter card count the motion passed 58 to 51.  When asked if this still passed could the School board find a way to bond the project, the school district counsel said no.

Warrant Article 2 – The Operating Budget next came to the floor with outgoing School Board Chair Laurie Bisson explaining its impact to those assembled and watching on HCTV.  Her slides showed how Hudson spending related to what other towns spend both per pupil and what Hudson pays its teacher.  Her impetus was that Hudson needed to catch up; especially for students to compete on a global level the district needs technology.  Bisson continued her passionate explanation by saying that she continues to hear over and over that special education funding is going up and the answer is it’s the law.  While it is the law she believes with the school board that every student matters. She pointed to the programs such as unified sports, the Penguin Plunge and the Christmas play as shining examples that every student matters.  She asked everyone to support the operational budget.

Budget Chairman Shawn Jasper spoke to the dollars that the proposed budget of $50,038,709 represented. It reflects an increase of $1,127,515 over the current budget, an increase of 2.31 percent.  The additional tax impact is 92 cents per thousand of assessed evaluation. Jasper reported that the budget committee recommended the article by a vote of 8-3.  He reported on factors that affected the rate that were not school board controllable including a retirement rate increase from the State of New Hampshire, the roughly $960,000 returned to the taxpayer last year that lowered the current rate but will inflate the FY 2015 rate, and the teachers’ contract increases that were approved by the voters last year.  The funds for operations are up about $200,000, which is for technology, textbooks and equipment needed for instruction.  Jasper continued that he sees this as a maintenance budget, while student population is projected to be lower and two teaching slots have been eliminated.

Rising from the audience was Richard Kahn, who after citing his credentials, made a point thorough childhood stories, that technology is not the answer and that students need to understand the basics, as he pointed to his head.

Gary Gasdia was next at the microphone, where he made several points about the status of education spending in Hudson. He pointed out that the 92-cent increase was a “Buck a Day.” “We are OK as the cheapest school district is only going to crap.”  “Why is the cheapest education alright for your kids?” Instead, he said that we should be comparing ourselves to Windham and Amherst.  He commented that you get what you pay for.  For example, when buying a car you wouldn’t choose the most expensive, but you also would not choose the cheapest.  Instead, you buy the best you can.  Those in the community center clapped and the moderator called for order.

School board member Meagan Pollack, speaking from an education perspective, said today’s students need to be able to use the technology tools along with critical thinking skills.

Several others spoke about the article before it was moved to the March 10th ballot.  Malcolm Price, a Hudson Budget Committee member, responded to a question from the gallery, when comments were asked for from budget members who supported the article.  He spoke of “education being the currency.”

Two staffing contracts are next on the ballot, one is for 29 food service workers and 131 part-time para-educators and the other is for 29 secretaries. Employees with health insurance benefits chose a consumer-based plan that will bring the school district in line with upcoming federal guidelines and save taxpayers 7 percent.

Warrant articles were to put away surplus monies at the end of the fiscal year into funds to cover further expenses for special education and build repairs, both moved to the ballot with no amendments.