Who's best for the board?

Michael Moore / Sentinel Staff

Moe Harty stepped away from the group of candidates and supporters to talk on the phone outside Swanzey’s Christian Life church polling place on Tuesday. Harty was out in support of school board candidates Cheryl McDaniel-Thomas and Eric Stanley.

SWANZEY CENTER — You can only push the local tax base so far before it pushes back — and that happened Tuesday in the Monadnock Regional School District.

Voters at the school district’s annual meeting rejected a $32,153,813 operating budget, a $2.29 million teachers’ contract and a warrant article seeking to hire a part-time school resource officer.

They did, however, approve funding for $1.1 million in renovations to Mount Caesar Elementary School in Swanzey Center, including asbestos abatement, and health and safety upgrades. The renovations are part of a multi-year project to upgrade the building and add a multi-purpose room.

Meanwhile, in a four-way race for two seats on the school board representing Swanzey, Eric Stanley and Cheryl McDaniel-Thomas received the most votes with 658 and 517, respectively. They will fill the three-year terms previously held by Patricia Bauries and F. Barrett Faulkner. Bauries received 337 votes and Melissa Diven received 143 votes. Faulkner didn’t seek re-election.

Monadnock covers Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy.

In a vote of 1,103 to 776, residents rejected the proposed 2016-17 operating budget, which represented an increase of $614,813, or 1.9 percent, from the $31,539,000 operating budget voters approved last year.

The default budget of $31,945,801 will go into effect July 1.

Voters in each of Monadnock’s member towns were consistent in their opposition of the budget. The budget failed 169 to 109 in Fitzwilliam, 100 to 63 in Gilsum, 133 to 56 in Richmond, 522 to 464 in Swanzey and 158 to 64 in Troy. Roxbury voters narrowly defeated the budget, 21 to 20.

This was the first time in recent years that Monadnock voters were presented with a budget at the district’s meeting that was higher than the default budget, and with different numbers from the budget committee and school board.

The budget committee initially proposed a 2016-17 operating budget of $31,820,000, which was $281,000 more than the 2015-16 operating budget, while the school board backed the $32,153,813 figure.

The budget committee’s proposal went before voters at a deliberative session last month in accordance with state law.

At that meeting, voters amended the budget, 57 to 37, to the school board’s proposal.

A total of 1,967 Monadnock voters participated in Tuesday’s annual meeting and election, compared to the 106 who attended the deliberative session. The school district has about 8,970 registered voters.

Since Monadnock is an official-ballot school district, residents vote warrant articles up or down at the polls.

Another warrant article voters rejected Tuesday night was a proposed contract between the school district and the Monadnock District Education Association.

The teachers’ union has about 160 members, and ratified the contract in January.

The union and the school board will likely have to reopen negotiations to present voters with a new version of the proposed contract. The current four-year contract expires June 30.

The three-year deal presented to voters Tuesday, which would have run through June 2019, would have cost the school district an estimated additional $363,862 in the first year, $395,927 in the second year, and $403,894 in the third year, according to the warrant article.

It had been the subject of controversy since it came before the school board for a vote in January. Besides the cost of the contract, some school board and budget committee members publicly questioned the health insurance split between school district and union members. The split varied depending on which health insurance plans teachers decided to take, but the district would have been responsible for paying 95 percent of the cost of the basic health insurance plan, while the employee would have been responsible for covering the remaining 5 percent.

Those same school officials also expressed concerns about using funds set aside in the current teacher’s contract for health insurance costs to be put toward the new contract.

The school board approved the contract in a weighted vote of 6.479 to 2.947, but the majority of the budget committee voted against recommending voters approve it.

Overall, Monadnock voters opposed the contract Tuesday, 1,067 to 806. The warrant article failed 162 to 120 in Fitzwilliam, 107 to 59 in Gilsum, 137 to 56 in Richmond, 22 to 19 in Roxbury, 495 to 478 in Swanzey and 144 to 74 in Troy.

In a 1,066 to 810 vote, the majority of residents voting in each Monadnock town also decided against the school district hiring a school resource officer, which would have been a sworn police officer, to work at the middle/high school.

The officer would have been from the Swanzey Police Department because the middle/high school’s in that town.

Monadnock already has a district-wide school security officer. Some school officials saw the positions as complementing each other, while others viewed it as creating redundancies.

Whether to hire a school resource officer, who would have the power to arrest students and carry a gun, has been an ongoing debate for Monadnock over the past 10 to 15 years.

In other business, Monadnock voters approved, 1,221 to 641, appropriating $39,500 for upgrades to sound systems at Monadnock Regional Middle/High School, and at Cutler, Emerson, Gilsum and Troy elementary schools. They also voted, 1,440 to 448, to spend $50,000 to continue asbestos abatement at the middle/high school.

All of the remaining five articles on the warrant, which included setting money aside for the before- and after-school program and emergency fuel expenditures, passed.

Elections

Besides the elections for the school board seats representing Swanzey, Karen Wheeler of Gilsum was elected to a three-year term without opposition.

She was appointed last year to fill out the final year of Ed Jacod’s term after he resigned following the March 2015 election.

Bill Hutwelker was re-elected without opposition to a one-year term as school district moderator. All budget committee races will be decided by write-in votes, as no one filed for the six seats that were up for election on the 14-member committee. Results of those contests weren’t available Tuesday night.

Meghan Foley can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436, or mfoley@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @MFoleyKS.