Minutes of October 31, 2011
Members present: J.J. Prior, Chris Pratt, and Jen Labadie. Members of the Sullivan Board of Selectmen present were Bob Thayer, Rick Hotchkiss and Mark Paquette.
Absent were Dana Briggs, Matt Burke, Stephanie Kleine, Paul Bolduc, Malinda Scherpa, and Julie Wilber.
The meeting opened at 7:30 PM. The selectmen conducted business with the public and with Randy Smith. Our portion of the meeting opened at 7:50 PM. The purpose of the meeting was the presentation of the final report to the Sullivan Board of Selectmen. JJ presented a brief review of the process we had used to arrive at our conclusions. He stated that the purpose of the committee was to look at Sullivan’s role within the Monadnock Region School District (MRSD) and make recommendations as to how we might achieve the best educational opportunities for our students. Then he presented the 4 options that the committee had considered and summarized the costs and issues with each choice. Option 1 is to stay in the MRSD and continue our relationship with them and SAU 93. Option 2 was to pay tuition for every student (K-12) to Keene which would be expensive. Option 3 would be to create a cooperative school district with Gilsum. While this looked like a good option at first, the committee became concerned about the costs when it was noted that the cost of “buying” the Gilsum school would be very high. Also, it is our belief that Gilsum is not interested in such a move. Option 4 would be to pay tuition for our 6-12 students to Keene and negotiate a tuition arrangement with some other town for our elementary students. Both Nelson and Harrisville have expressed an interest in such a proposal.
Since option 4 is the recommendation of the committee, JJ moved to a more specific discussion of the costs involved. He noted that the costs of middle and high school would be slightly higher than we pay at the moment. The costs for elementary school would be comparable although the exact costs are difficult to pin down since they would be subject to negotiation. The cost of SAU services would be less since we would not need such services as lunch and payroll administration. However the cost of special education services would be calculated by each of the schools receiving our students. In the case of Keene that is a fixed charge regardless of the level of services required. In the case of Nelson, it would be for the services required. In addition, there is the potential cost of out placing a special education student. For that we would need a capital improvement fund for such a catastrophic cost. That would require a set appropriation each year. We estimate the cost of transporting our students to the new schools to be about $100,000. When all of these factors are taken into consideration, the projected costs would be $1.1 million to $1.3 million vs. $800,000 that we currently pay.
Rick noted that there are some mitigating factors most importantly that the figures we were using do not take into account the money that the town pays out in the state-wide property tax and how much we receive back in state aid which is currently $3400 per student. Currently that money is paid directly to MRSD. Under option 4, it would come back to the town to reduce the over tax obligation. Thus, while our increased costs may look unaffordable, it could be lower. The Select Board agreed with our findings and asked us to report back on the new cost figures. They will take the figures and calculate what would happen to the tax rate. Assuming that the rate increase is affordable, they would like our committee to proceed with a set of public hearings that would lead up to the March, 2012, town meeting. They would like us to craft the proposed article to see if the town would be in favor of withdrawal from the MRSD and reconstituting the Sullivan School District. We would need to accomplish all of this by the first part of February, 2012.
The next task of the committee is to redo the numbers and have the selectmen recalculate the tax rate. JJ will handle that portion of the problem. If the numbers are reasonable, we will need to schedule a meeting to map out a series of public meetings. No meeting date is scheduled at this time.
There being no further business, the meeting adjourned at 8:35 PM.
C. Christopher Pratt