ConVal School Board

The ConVal School Board met remotely Friday night.

The ConVal School District will not move forward with a plan to launch a fully remote K-8 school as an option to families next year, the school board decided Friday evening.

The district’s $52.6 million budget proposal, which was shown to have passed by seven votes following a recount Thursday evening, included a plan to appropriate $780,000 to hire staff for the fully remote school. The school board voted unanimously Friday evening to nix that plan, with several board members saying they have heard strong pushback from voters regarding the addition of a remote school for the district.

“It’s overall great news that we can sit here and have this conversation now, and that we’re not in a default budget, and that the budget passed,” school board member Katherine Heck of Greenfield said. “However, we have a clear message from our constituents that 49.9 percent of our taxpayers can’t bear the budget burden, or they are not supportive of the K-8 remote option, or perhaps it’s both.”

By law, the $780,000 that would have been used for the remote school will remain in the district’s budget, since the recount showed that voters approved the proposal. The election-night tally last week showed the budget failing by four votes. If the budget proposal had failed, a default budget of $51,065,984, about $1.5 million less than the district’s proposal, would have been set to take effect. The rest of ConVal’s warrant passed easily at the polls last Tuesday.

The board did not decide Friday evening if or how the district will spend the money that would have been used to start the remote school, opting to discuss that at future meetings. Board members did note that the district could still offer a remote-learning option, if needed, in the future, even though it does not plan to create a separate remote school.

“If remote learning is needed, and required by the state, then obviously we’re going to have to improve upon it,” school board member Robert Short Jr. of Peterborough said. “... I know everyone that I’ve heard from has been vehemently against the proposal [for the fully remote school].”

At the district’s Feb. 3 deliberative session, Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders said some students and families have benefited from remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had some students who were very successful, and we had some parents who want to access school this way moving forward,” Rizzo Saunders said at that meeting. “While some parents really disliked it, we know that some of our students benefited, and this is the way that they want to move forward.”

Neither the district’s budget proposal, nor any of its warrant articles, generated any public discussion at the deliberative session. The board also discussed the budget at numerous public meetings ahead of last week’s election, Chairman Tim Theberge of Hancock said.

“Any suggestion the board attempted to slip this through or be anything other than fully transparent is fundamentally incorrect,” he said of the proposed remote learning school.

The ConVal School Board’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, April 6.

Jack Rooney can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1404, or jrooney@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @RooneyReports.