Jaffrey-Rindge’s proposed operating budget of $27.5 million met with public objection when it was presented by the school board at a public hearing Thursday night.
The proposal is approximately $760,000 higher than the current district budget.
“I can’t afford this,” Frank Sterling of Jaffrey said. “A lot of people can’t afford it.”
The increase includes an additional $850,000 for special education services, as well as a $147,000 increase for salaries and a $113,000 increase for utilities. There were also decreases, including $118,000 due to a reduction in the staffing of two positions, a part-time secretary and a full-time security coordinator.
Superintendent Reuben Duncan said it was the bare minimum they could spend.
“A lot of this increase is related to cost trends,” Duncan said. “I think everyone knows that there have been some serious adjustments and continue to be, to what things cost across the board. There’s nothing exciting in which we spend money for which we get more.The increases in this budget are just to keep everything the same.
Members of the public disputed this, with Sterling calling it “unsustainable”.
“You have to go back and seriously consider reducing a lot of these issues and not trying to fix them all this year,” he said.
Part of the public concern centered on the fact that Jaffrey would bear a greater share of the tax burden, as Jaffrey’s students make up the majority of the school’s population. In 2020, according to Duncan, there was a drop of about 150 students from what had been largely stable enrollment, with the majority of them coming from Rindge Memorial School. As a result, Jaffrey students now make up 56.36% of the district’s population, increasing their contribution.
Jaffrey’s Jack Belletete suggested that with this reduction in student numbers, the district should consider reducing staff.
“I think it’s appropriate; we need to get a downsizing to get a little bit less so that Jaffrey doesn’t take such a hit,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough sell.”
In the end, the board members decided not to make any changes.
“I’m kind of in a position where you asked us to provide education,” Vice President Charlie Eicher said. “Actually, we’ve taken an oath to provide an education for your children, and we’ll do our best, but that’s what we have to do. But if you don’t want to, tell us you don’t want to.
Other financial mandate items include $455,745 to cover the district’s negotiated collective agreement, a move to enter into a lease-purchase agreement to upgrade the district’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. JRMS and CHS for $4.47 million, with $374,586 as the first payment, and a lease-to-own agreement to upgrade the district toilets for $3.37 million with $281,951 as the first payment.
Mandate items also included raising $500,000 for the building maintenance reserve fund and allocating $200,000 to the district special education provident fund. Following public feedback, the board reduced these measures to $300,000 for building maintenance and $75,000 for special education.
Additionally, the council removed the article from the lease-purchase agreement to upgrade bathrooms in the district, deciding that the need for HVAC upgrades was more pressing if they were to be forced to choose.
Board member John McCarthy called the cuts a “show of good faith” to concerned voters.
“To me, it’s like we’re communicating something, that we’re trying,” he said.
The final article of the mandate was submitted by petition and would require the board to make available all teaching materials used by the district by placing them in the Rindge and Jaffrey libraries. The article referred to the issue as a matter of transparency and education, but council members expressed concern.
“On the face of it, this seems reasonable, but I also see issues with it in terms of implementation and impact on teachers and instructors,” McCarthy said.
Board chair Marcia Gustafson-Belletete called it “absurd” and other members raised questions about whether it could potentially infringe copyright for certain educational materials used by the district. Alone on the mandate, the council voted not to recommend this article.
The district’s deliberative session will be held Feb. 9 at 6:30 p.m. at the Rindge Memorial School gymnasium.