Town meeting 2021

Both the ConVal and Monadnock Regional school districts will hold recounts this week for warrant articles that failed narrowly at the polls last Tuesday.

The Monadnock recount, on an article that would fund the replacement of unit air ventilators at two schools, will begin today at 5 p.m. in the Monadnock Regional Middle/High School annex in Swanzey Center. Meanwhile, the ConVal recount, on the district’s $52.6 million budget proposal, is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in the ConVal Regional High School gymnasium in Peterborough.

Monadnock District Clerk Lillian Sutton said Monday that she had received 15 recount requests for the warrant article that would raise $840,000 to replace ventilators in about 25 rooms total between Gilsum STEAM Academy and Monadnock Regional Middle/High School. The article failed last Tuesday 1,108-1,104, with 96 ballots that left that article blank, according to unofficial results from the district.

All of the ballots cast by voters in the district — which covers Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy — have been stored in sealed ballot boxes at the district office since being counted last Tuesday, Sutton said. The boxes will be reopened this evening, when Sutton and District Moderator Bill Hutwelker will oversee the hand recount by five school board members and one member of the district’s budget committee.

Sutton said she anticipates the recount will take about an hour, after which the results will be announced and certified. If the results do not change the vote’s outcome, the district likely will have to delay the ventilation project, which it had hoped to complete in the summer of 2022, Business Administrator Janel Morin told The Sentinel in January.

The ventilators slated to be replaced were installed in the 1980s and work fine for now, but “they’re getting towards the end of their working life,” Morin said. The district wants to replace them before they break down, she explained, which could lead to an emergency situation if the district doesn’t have funds on hand to replace the ventilators immediately. These renovations were scheduled before the coronavirus pandemic, and therefore, Superintendent Lisa Witte has said, they do not count as COVID-related expenses eligible for federal relief funding.

Like the Monadnock article to fund the ventilation project, ConVal’s proposed operating budget also failed by four votes last Tuesday, 1,625-1,621. If the result remains the same after Thursday’s recount, a default budget of $51,065,984, about $1.5 million less than the district’s proposal, is set to take effect.

ConVal District Moderator Bob Edwards said Monday he is working with the district’s nine member towns — Antrim, Bennington, Dublin, Francestown, Greenfield, Hancock, Peterborough, Sharon and Temple — to find registered voters to conduct the hand recount Thursday. Edwards said he hopes to find about 24 people, who will work in teams of three to complete the recount in about three or four hours.

In the meantime, Edwards said ConVal received a recount request signed by 10 voters last Wednesday. He added that ConVal’s ballots have been sealed and stored in a locked room at the district office in Peterborough since last Tuesday and will remain there until the recount begins Thursday afternoon.

ConVal’s proposed budget would be $1,954,610, or 4 percent, higher than the current year’s budget, an increase largely attributed to the addition of several staff members, according to the district’s annual report. Additionally, the district faces mandatory cost increases for contributions to the state’s retirement system, school board member Jim Fredrickson of Sharon, who chairs the board’s budget and property committee, said at the district’s deliberative session last month.

ConVal also included in its budget proposal a plan to appropriate $780,000 to staff a fully remote K-8 school as an option to families moving forward. Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders said at the district’s deliberative session that some students and families have benefitted from remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both recounts are open to the public, though Sutton said the Monadnock district is encouraging residents to watch the recount via Zoom, to promote social distancing at the middle/high school. The link to join that Zoom meeting is available at Edwards said ConVal also is exploring the possibility of broadcasting its recount.

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