RINDGE — Proposed renovation projects and planned new positions garnered the most attention at the Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District’s annual budget hearing Monday.
The scantly attended meeting began with a public hearing on a proposed $2.1 million bond for renovations to the parking lots at Jaffrey Grade School and Rindge Memorial School.
David Reilly, the district’s facilities manager, said the renovations are necessary to increase safety at both schools, where buses currently share limited space with other traffic.
In Jaffrey, the work would include paving over a dirt parking lot to increase parking capacity and re-routing parent pick-up to Charlonne Street to leave School Street open for buses. The upgrades would also include addressing some drainage issues around the school, according to the district’s presentation.
Renovations at Rindge Memorial School, where Monday’s meeting was held, would add a second parking lot on land owned by the district that sits between the school and the Rindge Historical Society, would separate car and bus traffic and would increase lighting in the area.
Laurel McKenzie, chairwoman of the school board, noted that school upkeep was one of the issues the community identified as important in a survey distributed by the superintendent a few years ago.
“One thing that came out of it was that the community very much wanted us to do a better job of taking care of the facilities,” McKenzie, of Jaffrey, said. “And certainly there’s no doubt that the parking lots at all of the schools are in great need of attention.”
A few people, such as Deanna Wilson of Rindge, attested to the need for a better pick-up and drop-off system at the Rindge school in the interest of students’ safety.
“I don’t have any kids here anymore, but from what I remember, pick-up and drop-off was atrocious,” Wilson said. “Not that they didn’t do a great job, but you’re right, it’s horrible — not safe whatsoever for all the kids.”
Following the bond hearing, the board opened its public hearing on the proposed 2019-20 budget, which totals $25,416,319, up $30,465, or 0.12 percent, from the $25,385,854 operating budget voters approved in March 2018.
Should that budget fail to pass, a default budget of $25,516,759 — a figure that is $100,440 higher than the proposed operating budget — would go into effect.
Superintendent Reuben D. Duncan said the district has seen budget surpluses in excess of $700,000 in recent years, and the board has worked hard to find the right budget figure that will provide what the district needs without placing too heavy a burden on taxpayers.
“Even though (a surplus) is positive, the board desires to do our very best to budget what we need the first time around and to not necessarily have those large, large surpluses of 4 or 5 percent of the budget, which is what we have had,” he said. “ ... Certainly, you want a surplus and not the opposite, but you want to be accurate when you’re going to ask people to open up to pay their taxes as well and to vote.”
The budget proposal includes several personnel changes, including adding an assistant principal to be shared between Jaffrey Grade School and Rindge Memorial School. Duncan said that the elementary schools are in need of another administrator to help support the principals, who don’t have as much administrative support as leaders at the middle and high school.
Another significant personnel change would replace the district’s athletic director with an activities director who would oversee all extracurricular activities, Duncan said. The district originally proposed that this position be made an assistant principal post to give it more flexibility, but the board decided not to pursue that avenue, he said.
“We believe strongly that we need some individuals who are going to focus on improving both our athletic system as well as our activities in general, so not just our programming for those who are student athletes, but also for those who are students who have other interests,” Duncan said. “Arts, STEM, anything that is going on that is going to really increase their ability to learn and to become strong citizens in our community.”
Patty Farmer, a Jaffrey resident, noted that a greater focus on extracurricular activities could be a big plus for students as they prepare for their next steps after graduation.
“One of the key things for graduates and getting into colleges is how diverse their involvement is in the school, and to have someone who’s record-keeping that in addition to guidance I think would be very beneficial for all of the graduates,” Farmer said.
In March, voters will also consider a collective bargaining agreement reached between the district and the Jaffrey-Rindge Education Association, a teachers union. The three-year contract would have an estimated $308,509 increase for salaries and benefits in the 2019-20 fiscal year, according to the draft warrant.
The warrant also includes an article proposing $190,000 for reconstruction and repair of roofs at Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School and Rindge Memorial School, and an article authorizing the district to appropriate $200,000 from its end-of-year fund balance to acquire property adjacent to any of its schools, the warrant shows.
The district’s deliberative session, where warrant articles can be discussed and amended, is set for Feb. 6 at 6:30 p.m. in Pratt Auditorium at Conant High School in Jaffrey. Voters will go to the ballot box on March 12.