2019 Raymond School Deliberative


Deliberative Session Voters Increase School Budget to Keep YEES Caseworker
By Leslie O’Donnell  2-04-19

The Raymond School District Deliberative Session went quickly and smoothly through the first nine articles on the warrant, but after a 20-minute pause for lunch, weathered a lengthy discussion and multiple proposed amendments of the final article.

The Feb. 2 Deliberative was the first for School District Moderator Ed French, who directed the session with plenty of explanations and humor. All School Board members were present except for Beth Paris. Budget Committee members Sarah Maldonado and Sharon Stolts were absent as well. The session lasted almost four hours and 68 voters attended.

Michelle Dubin proposed an amendment to Article 2, the school budget, to add $65,625 to keep the YEES (Youth Education Employment Service) caseworker at the Iber Holmes Gove Middle School. Because the school budget is a bottom-line budget, the money would be added to the General Fund and could not be specifically designated for the YEES worker. The School Board had previously cut the YEES worker from the budget.

The amendment brought the budget to $25,300,796.

Dubin noted that the middle school currently has a YEES caseworker but he is not in the budget for next year.

“We rely on (the YEES caseworker) greatly several times each day,” said Dubin, who is a parent of four and a para-educator at the middle school. “The caseworker we have now is greatly used and greatly needed. Our children benefit from him. If we do not have him to help with children with behavior issues, every other child will be affected….The children can cause a classroom to be disrupted for an entire period. Our children will not learn anything in that period if we do not have someone to help us.”

Kristin Wallace, a parent and long-time teacher at the middle school, reiterated “how important that position is to us. When a kid has an issue, all learning stops.” She noted that in past years the School Board eliminated the positions of teacher of the emotionally handicapped and counselor of the emotionally handicapped.

“This is our last line of defense,” Wallace said of the YEES caseworker.

School Board member Janice Arsenault said the board had voted 4-0 to cut the YEES position, but emphasized the vote had nothing to do with supporting the students with whom the position works.  “The major issue was the cost - $63,000 for someone who, by contract, can only have a caseload of nine students.

“We have to present a budget that will be passed by the voters of Raymond and not push someone to vote for the default budget, where you will see more serious cuts,” she added. The default budget is $24,953,346.

Wallace took issue with the nine-student caseload number. “It’s not nine students who are affected – it’s all the other students who are impacted by those nine students,” she said.

The amendment was approved by the voters present, and the article as amended was sent to the official ballot, with further discussion restricted.

Article 7, professional banking and brokerage, was moved up for discussion following the budget because Kevin Woods, the presenter, would be absent later in the meeting. The article asks voters to enact HB 1593, which amends state statute and gives the Trustees of the Trust Funds the authority to pay for professional banking or brokerage assistance fees out of School District Capital Reserve Funds.

State Rep. Kathleen Hoelzel, R-Raymond said passage of the article would be a financial benefit to taxpayers.

The article was moved to the official ballot unchanged.

No discussion took place on article 3, the Raymond Educational Support Staff (RESS) contract, and it, as well as article 4, a special meeting authorized if article 3 failed, moved on to the official ballot.

Also moved without change to the official ballot were article 5, Capital Reserve Funds; article 6, discontinuance of the Textbook Capital Reserve Fund; article 8, fund balance; and article 9, water easement funds to the Capital Reserve Fund.

Generating by far the most discussion of the day was Article 10, which directs the School District to form a seven-member committee appointed by the School Board to study the possibility of sending Raymond High School students via a tuition agreement to Pinkerton Academy, and to authorize spending $50,000 on a building needs assessment and design analysis for converting RHS to an elementary school.

The School Board had previously asked the administration to look into alternatives to RHS, and while numerous nearby schools were contacted, including Exeter and Epping high schools and Coe-Brown Academy, only Sanborn Regional, Manchester and Pinkerton Academy expressed interest in taking all RHS students. Of that group of three, Pinkerton was the choice of the School Board; Sanborn was more expensive and Manchester did not answer specific questions.

School officials emphasized that the District has not entered into any formal agreement with Pinkerton or anyone else.

Jack Barnes asked the School District Attorney, Gordon Graham, whether the School Board would be obligated to follow through if the article passed, and Graham said the District would only be obligated to raise the $50,000, with everything else advisory to the School Board.

The District, Graham said, would definitely not be obligated to send its high school students to Pinkerton. He said the article would simply authorize the study.

The article, he said, “would only allow the board to appoint a committee to report back to the District on Dec. 1, 2019 what its findings were, and also authorize the School Board to conduct a building needs assessment.”

Asked by Barnes whether passing the article would mean the School Administrative Unit (SAU) would disappear because of the lack of a high school, as some in Town have said, French said those two issues are not linked. “The intent of the article is not to eliminate the SAU,” he said.

Graham added that Raymond is a single district SAU and is responsible for educating students from the Town of Raymond from kindergarten through grade 12, or until they are 21, whichever comes first. “That’s the obligation of the District,” he said. “The SAU isn’t separate from the District. Whatever you do with the high school will not impact in any way, shape or form” the administration of school services

Barnes told those assembled that Pinkerton is Division 1 in sports and Raymond is Division 3 and 4, and said it would be “very difficult” for Raymond youths to play sports at Pinkerton. “A lot of kids stay in school because of sports and extra-curricular activities,” he added. “I feel we’d be doing a disservice to our kids by doing this.

“I’m damn proud of being a Raymond resident, and many of these kids who come out of Raymond High School are doing very well,” he added. “Turn this stupid thing down.”

In regard to tuitioning RHS students to Pinkerton, Barnes told the group assembled, “no way, Jose.”

Kristin Wallace to the microphone to say that if the District closed a school and the Town took it over, taxpayers would still be paying for the building. And she said $50,000 should not be “thrown away to look at something that won’t save money.

“To me, it’s the point of no return,” she said. “If you get rid of the high school, it’s gone for good. Don’t take pride in their high school away from the kids.”

Asked by Christina Vogel for the reason the article is on the warrant, School Board chairman Joe Saulnier said the idea had come up repeatedly at school and budget committee meetings at least since 2002 as a potential way to save money. “Saying yes to the article does not mean tuitioning the students,” he added. He said the vote would allow the Board to say what the citizens of Raymond want.

Jane Bailey, who also suggested tuitioning elementary school students instead, proposed an amendment to form a seven-member committee appointed by the School Board to study a tuition agreement for RHS students with Pinkerton or “other public high schools within 20 miles of Raymond,” and report back by the 2020 Deliberative session. Her amendment did not include raising $50,000.

Saulnier noted that the District had already done the work she proposed. The amendment was defeated.

Also speaking against the original article were Bob McDonald and Kathy Hoelzel. “Let’s do the right thing and keep our kids in Raymond,” McDonald said. Hoelzel said she was “totally” against sending students out of Raymond.

Carol Watjus asked what would happen to the $50,000 if the article was approved and the School Board decided not to do anything, and Graham explained the money would go into the General Fund and could be expended for any school purpose.

Brady Ward took the microphone to say that spending a little more money on the YEES worker or band or keeping kids in sports would save a lot more money in the future. “I do not support this article,” he said.

Dawn “Rani” Merryman, speaking as a citizen and not a member of the budget committee, proposed an amendment that would remove the $50,000 from the article and leave everything else. “My personal opinion is that this article is more about putting the issue to bed,” she said. “I do not see the need to attach money to it. It will give us a clear choice about voters’ thoughts on sending kids out of town.”

Saulnier responded that without the money, funding for the study would have to come from the General Fund, and without a study, a building conversion cost could not be obtained.

Barnes said he did not think the $50,000 mattered to the majority of people in Raymond. “I doubt if the $50,000 changes people’s minds,” he said. “This is going to go down 80-20.”

Katherin Mann said she does not support the amendment and thinks the money should remain in the article. “We have to look at both sides and let people who want to vote yes have a chance,” she said. “Let’s leave all the options on the table.”

The amendment failed.

Comments resumed on the original article, and Kathy Lee said she did not support it. “The high school is part of our community,” she said.

Josh Mann said he was one of the people who have suggested in years past finding out the cost of tuitioning RHS students . “I’ve heard from a lot of people who want this information,” he said. “I look at this as a data-gathering article. Let’s get the right data so as to make an informed decision.”

Merryman proposed an amendment that would state that if the study were not completed, the $50,000 would be returned to the taxpayers, but Graham quickly interjected that there was no authority to do that.

Norman Eric Lord then proposed an amendment stating that when the study is complete, a vote by district voters would be required on entering any agreement with Pinkerton or any other school district.

Graham said that if the voters agree, the minutes of the Deliberative Session should reflect that Lord’s proposed amendment does not apply to emergencies, such as a fire that destroys one of the schools. Lord and the other voters agreed.

“The bottom line,” Cheryl Killam pointed out, “is this is an advisory article.”

The amendment passed and the amended article was sent to the official ballot. The amended article retains the original language and adds the requirement for a vote by district voters before any agreement to tuition students can be approved.

After the Deliberative Session was closed, the School Board voted 4-0 to recommend the amended budget of $25,300,796. The Budget Committee, after hearing from Graham that it did not have to make a recommendation on the Pinkerton article, voted 3-2 to remove its previous recommendation statement. Wayne Welch and Josh Mann voted no, while Watjus, Merryman and Saulnier voted yes.

The Budget Committee also voted on the amended budget, with a vote to recommend it failing 2-3, with Mann and Saulnier in favor.

The Town Deliberative Session is at 10 a.m. Feb. 9 at the high school. Voters will cast their ballots on both School District and Town warrant articles on March 12.

To read a detailed description of what a YES vote versus a NO vote will mean visit the Raymond Voter Information Project Website.

Be Sure To Come Out and Vote on March 12.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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