Let me present the district’s line of argument about the closing of Sandown Central in a timeline.
2008: Capital Improvement Plan recommends consolidating the two Sandown Elementary schools with an extensive addition to Sandown North.
March, 2009: District voters reject a warrant to provide funds to plan and design an addition to Sandown North in order to consolidate it with Sandown Central.
Jan. 2014: Rob Collins, School board chairman, writes an email saying Sandown Central will have to close if the budget is cut. He also introduces the threat of user fees and program cuts. Watch this email challenged by Mrs. Copp at a Sandown Board of Selectman meeting with Mr. Collins and Dr. Metzler. http://vimeo.com/85950991#t=36m35s
March 2014: Voters elect default budget which is just $500,000 less than the district’s proposed budget, or 0.75% less.
Dec 4.2014: At a school board meeting, Dr. Metzler announces that the second draft of the 2015-2016 budget removes the operating expenses of Sandown Central. Financial information presented shows Sandown Central with the highest per pupil elementary operating costs. School Board votes to support Superintendent’s budget.
Dec. 5, 2014: Second budget draft published on Budget Committee website (with SC operating expenses removed). First time Sandown Central closure is placed before Budget Committee.
Dec. 11, 2014: Deliberation on second draft budget by Budget Committee. Mr. Cantone pressed Dr. Metzler for any other costs associated with the closure. Administration said the total picture was a savings of $744,299.
Dec. 12, 2014: SAU publishes draft three of budget that adds $260,000 for a sprinkler system and $90,000 for a playground expansion at Sandown North – never before mentioned at Budget Committee, School Board or Facility Committee meetings – nor were they on the five-year plan for facility enhancements published by the facilities manager.
Jan. 8, 2015: At a school board meeting, Peter Bealo motions to move 4th and 5th grades from Sandown Central to Sandown North. Motion defeated. Donna Green tries to get the operating expenses separated from the kitchen renovation cost by introducing two separate warrant articles. Motion defeated. All warrant articles approved for public hearing, including a warrant for $1,160,544 to keep Sandown Central open and renovate and equip a new kitchen. (Vote of 6-1-1)
Jan. 13, 2015 Two Citizen Petition warrant articles about Sandown Central are submitted for the March ballot. One asks voters to approve $602,528 in operating funds to keep the school open (without a new kitchen). Another instructs the district to do a study and have voters decide on all school closings. (Advisory only).
Jan.15, 2015 Budget Public Hearing: Dr, Metzler responds to a question by Donna Green about what would happen if neither warrant article passes to keep the school open and what if one does pass. The Superintendent replies that if both warrants fail, then by law the district can’t keep the school open; however, if one does pass the school board could vote to close the school in any event. “‘No’ means ‘No,'” he said, “but ‘Yes’ doesn’t mean ‘Yes.’ ” Mr. Cantone questions if closing the school is strategically the best thing to do, then why did the school board put forward a warrant article to fund keeping the school open with a new kitchen? Acting school board chair, Kate Delfino replies that the board wanted to give the voters a choice even though the school is inefficient and could be consolidated. Dr. Metzler promises that if a new kitchen is put into Sandown Central, he would not recommend the school be closed in the short-term.
Jan.22, 2015: Kelly Ward, Sandown school board representative, motions to table any further vote on closing Sandown Central until after the March election. The Board defeats this vote. Green decries the irresponsible lack of information or study on the closing. Peter Bealo from Plaistow motions (again) to move 4th and 5th grade from Sandown Central to Sandown North. That motion is also defeated. The board is made to understand that a future vote on the closing of the school can be made at any time at future meetings.
So here we have it. The school board thinks the best use of taxpayer money with the least impact on students is to close a school.
- They do not require anything that might be called a study to support their blithe pronouncements that a consolidation will be unproblematic and will not lead to much greater costs in the future.
- The administration takes two meetings to reveal to the budget committee the full extent of the costs to consolidate the schools which includes a sprinkler system and a new playground — previously unplanned expenses.
- The school board puts forward a warrant article to fund the school with a new $416,000 kitchen because they say they want to give voters the chance to keep the school open. They reject a motion to split the article into two choices.
- The school board repeatedly votes to close the school and undertakes to make no promise about when they will finally vote on the issue – possibly before the election.
- We learn from public hearing that even a yes vote by district voters to keep the school open could result in closing the school.
Here’s what I have concluded from this comedy of errors: the school will be closed unless district voters agree to invest $416,000 in a new kitchen. Just how does this reduce the cost of running this school? It only inflates the capital expense of keeping it open and does nothing at all to reduce the operating per pupil cost. Evidently the primary issue was not the per pupil operating cost of the school after all.
What was the real purpose of putting the school board’s warrant for operating expenses and a new kitchen on the ballot?
To give the voters a say? Nope
To take the responsibility off the school board? Nope…. they are still trying to take votes
Why indeed? Every which way is illogical. But it does have some happy consequences for the district’s goals.
If both warrant articles concerning SC are defeated: school closes and the board is forbidden from opening the school – decision made for them.
If the warrant article that includes the kitchen passes: School stays open for at least the short term and the district loses the opportunity to gain saving by a consolidation.
If the Citizen’s Warrant Article passes: the board has the discretion to keep the school open or to close it, BUT it will raise $602,528 either way. The law says money raised by warrant for one purpose cannot be used for any other purpose – but it can be put directly into surplus which will disguise the absence of other money that should have been in surplus but has been spent.
People accuse me of being conspiratorial, but I am merely presenting the logical possibilities.
This uncertainty provokes anxiety in the students, and causes resentment among parents and taxpayers. Wasn’t there a better way to go about all this?
See the school warrant articles here:School Deliberative information