JAFFREY — Most of the discussion at Jaffrey-Rindge’s deliberative session Wednesday was on a $2.1 million bond proposal — and if the school district should take on that debt as one of its two member towns considers studying whether the district should cease to exist.
Of the Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District’s 8,651 registered voters, 76 — or about 0.88 percent — attended the meeting in Conant High School’s Pratt Auditorium in Jaffrey. Of those, 35 voters were from Rindge, and 41 were from Jaffrey.
The proposed bond would pay to complete parking lot renovations at Jaffrey Grade School and Rindge Memorial School, separating bus and vehicle traffic at both schools and improving lighting and parking capacity.
Conversation on the proposal centered not on the renovation work itself, but what might happen if Rindge passes an article on its town warrant this year that would authorize a study of the possibility of dissolving the school district.
Laurel McKenzie of Jaffrey, chairwoman of the school board, explained that under state law, liability for the bond would fall on Jaffrey should Rindge decide to look at withdrawal and ultimately pull out of the district.
That’s because per RSA 195:27, “the withdrawing district shall not be liable for any indebtedness or loss of state aid or other aid contracted after the district has duly notified the remaining districts in the cooperative that a withdrawal study is being requested.”
Several attendees of Wednesday’s session asked what the school board would do if Rindge OKs the dissolution study and district voters also authorize the bond.
McKenzie said the board could choose to do one of three things if both articles pass: proceed with the bond as planned; wait and see what the study committee recommends before taking out the bond; or take out a smaller bond for the time being and complete renovations at Jaffrey Grade School.
She emphasized that the school board still recommends passing the article.
David Drouin of Rindge noted that the town’s article, submitted by petition by Selectman Roberta Oeser, would authorize only a study looking at dissolving the district and does not actually propose withdrawal.
Oeser told The Sentinel last month that a feasibility study would estimate the costs of each town going its own way, versus staying together. Those numbers could inform the ongoing debate over how much each town should pay into the district, which has been a divisive topic among Jaffrey and Rindge residents in recent years.
Any proposal for withdrawal would need to be approved by the State Board of Education, and would then go before the district’s voters for a final decision.
The bond article, which requires a three fifths majority at the polls to pass, was moved onto the district’s ballot as written Wednesday.
Pondering personnel changes
During discussion of the district’s $25,416,319 proposed operating budget — which is up $30,465, or 0.12 percent, from the $25,385,854 operating budget voters approved last March — several people commented on planned personnel changes.
One of the most significant changes built into the budget proposal would convert the district’s part-time athletic director to an activities director, who would oversee all extracurricular activities, with a $67,072 increase in the budget to make it a full-time position.
Jaffrey resident Jason Boyle questioned the level of spending for the role, commenting that it exceeds what many Jaffrey-Rindge teachers are paid. Boyle is a former teacher in the district and is now running for an at-large seat on the school board.
“It seems to me that the community is not asked to help often enough, and things like this could partially be covered with volunteers and other people who would like to contribute to the district,” Boyle said. “That seems like a lot of money for that position to me.”
Dan Whitney of Rindge brought up changes made to the district’s administrative structure this year. Following the approval of this school year’s budget at last year’s town meeting, the staff shifted from two principals and two assistant principals between the middle and high schools to one principal and two assistant principals serving both schools.
Whitney asked why the district has proposed adding another administrator — the activities director — back into the staff.
“And I know you’re going to tell me it’s not a principal, it’s not an assistant principal. But that was why I asked the question, ‘Is this person an administrator,’ and the response is yes,” Whitney said. “Talk me through how it’s not putting back what you took out last year.”
Superintendent Reuben Duncan responded that the community has been asking for a full-time athletic director for several years and noted that the district has had difficulty retaining a part-time athletic director because of the intensity of the role. The idea of this position is to support athletes along with a wider range of students, Duncan said, by including other extracurricular activities such as music and clubs.
“So it was not an addition due to the change necessarily. I guess you could say the change in focus in the administration that we have right now is one that desires greatly to improve our school district here, our middle and high school, and provide students with as many activities and options as they possibly can have,” he said. “And this role better supports that.”
Another personnel change rolled into the budget would add an assistant principal to serve both Jaffrey Grade School and Rindge Memorial School.
That article and the remainder of the articles on the district’s warrant, including a three-year contract for the Jaffrey-Rindge Education Association teachers union and a request for $190,000 to repair roofs at Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School and Rindge Memorial School, were moved to the ballot as written.
Jaffrey-Rindge voters will have their final say on the proposed measures at the ballot box on March 12, where they will also elect school board members and other district officers.