WINCHESTER — Voters approved the entire town and school district warrants at the polls Tuesday, including a $12.4 million school budget that restores most of the nearly $1.6 million that residents cut from the current budget.
“I’m elated,” said school board Chairwoman Lindseigh Picard, who won re-election to the board Tuesday and also earned a three-year term on the town’s selectboard. “Our residents turned out and supported some really important things on our ballot this year, so I’m excited about it.”
The $11.3 million budget that voters approved last year prompted major cuts, such as transportation for students to and from Keene High School, all athletic programs and more than 20 staff positions. Kindergarten was also reduced to half-day. With the 2021-22 budget, which passed 452-339, Picard said the district will be able to resume full-day kindergarten, sports and high school busing, and hire back eight staff members.
“Those were the key pieces of what this budget needed to restore, really,” she said.
A total of 830 residents, out of the 3,143 registered voters, turned out for Winchester’s annual town and school district meetings, which were postponed from March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with the budget, they approved an article on the school district warrant to raise $400,000 to help eliminate a $745,402 deficit.
In addition to the $400,000 voters approved Tuesday, 408-374, the school board voted following a public hearing on Jan. 5 to use $125,000 from the district’s special education expendable trust fund to help pay down the deficit. Picard said Tuesday the district hopes to make up the remaining $220,402 using excess funds at the end of next fiscal year.
The district confirmed the deficit last fall, though it developed over the past eight years because the district did not conduct annual financial audits between 2012 and 2016, Picard has said.
On the town warrant, residents approved a $3,675,097 operating budget, 592-102. That marks a $17,065, or 0.5 percent, decrease from the $3,692,162 budget voters approved last year.
An article to raise $25,000 to hire a part-time social worker for the police department passed 413-372. This article, which the selectboard did not recommend, generated significant discussion at the town’s deliberative session last month, where proponents said adding the position could help people get connected with area resources instead of facing jail time or ticketing. Opponents, meanwhile, said there are already several resources for the police department to use if needed.
Aside from spending proposals on the town warrant, voters also ousted two incumbent selectboard members. Gloria Leustek and Jack Marsh lost re-election bids to Picard, who earned 355 votes, and Theresa Sepe, who got 336 votes. Leustek received 189 votes, while Marsh got 288. Lindsey Nutting and Natalie Quevedo also ran unsuccessfully for those seats, earning 52 and 276 votes, respectively.
Here are other results from Winchester’s town and school district ballots and warrants:
Two incumbent planning board members kept their seats for three more years. Dean Beaman, the board’s chairman, won 358 votes, and Jordan Sharra got 353 votes. They defeated Brian Favreau, who had 239, Jason Koerber, with 228, and Bridget E. Pearce, who received 116 votes.
In the one open three-year term on the budget committee, Brenden Hubbard won with 306 votes, defeating Kevin Bazan with 285 and Sherman Tedford with 164.
For the three open seats as Conant Library trustees, Jennifer Gomarlo Howe won with 518 votes, Jennifer Bennett with 340 and Barbara Depew with 330 votes. Amaret “Mitty” Johnson lost that race with 319 votes.
The following candidates were elected without contest: Ann Goodrich Bazan to a one-year term as supervisor of the checklist, Margaret Curtiss to a three-year term as town treasurer, Michael Coope to a three-year term as trustee of the trust fund, Paul Taylor to a three-year term as a Thayer Library trustee, Amanda Lunt to a one-year term as a Thayer Library trustee and Henry A.L. Parkhurst to a three-year term as a cemetery trustee. Jennifer Ballen won a two-year term as a Thayer Library trustee with 40 write-in votes.
Residents voted 464-313 to authorize the selectboard to enter into a five-year lease-to-purchase agreement for a 2021 wheel loader. The agreement will cost $153,930, with a first year’s payment of $26,983. The town plans to trade in its current loader, worth $26,000, to offset the total cost of the lease.
An article to raise $7,500 to purchase equipment to live stream and video record all public board and committee meetings, which was submitted by petition and not recommended by the selectboard, passed 439-343. Additionally, voters passed 12 separate articles to raise a total of $179,522 for various capital reserve funds.
Voters approved a two-year collective bargaining agreement with the Winchester Teachers’ Association. The contract calls for wage and benefit increases estimated at $64,118 in 2021-22 and $63,903 for the following year. Articles to raise a total of $150,000 for two separate trust funds also passed.
School district races
In the lone contested school district race, Picard won re-election with 436 votes and newcomer Lindsey Hildreth also won a three-year seat on the school board with 490 votes. They defeated Aaron Bittner and Autumn Laraba, who received 216 and 263 votes, respectively.
The following candidates ran unopposed: William McGrath won a three-year term as school district treasurer, Kevan Whippie earned a two-year term as school district moderator, and Jim Tetreault won a three-year term as school district clerk.