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ERCSD Board Rejects BAC Analysis 8-1, Supports Budget as Presented

Updated: Dec 11, 2021

The Exeter Region Cooperative School District (ERCSD) school board held two meetings on December 7, 2021: a brief Special Meeting, and a budget workshop. The brief Special Meeting, which began at 5:50 p.m., was to announce and accept two teacher retirements (a high school Spanish teacher, and a CMS English teacher), and to vote on the negotiated Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiated with the Exeter Cooperative Paraprofessional Association. No details of the Collective Bargaining Agreement were disclosed, and it will appear as a warrant article for voters in March. However, it was notable that the Board members had not been provided with a copy of the agreement in advance of the meeting, and one member, Ted Lloyd from East Kingston, indicated that he did not feel comfortable voting on a contract that he had not had the opportunity to read. Despite his request to delay a vote on the contract so that he could read it, the Board voted 6-2-1 to approve it, with one member abstaining. Those in favor of passing the contract: Helen Joyce, Paul Bauer, Kim Meyer, Bob Hall, Travis Thompson and Bill Gauthier. Those opposed: Ted Lloyd (who wished to read the contract prior to voting on it) and Melissa Litchfield. David Slifka abstained requesting time to read the contract.

Budget Workshop As recounted here, the Budget Advisory Committee (BAC) rejected the proposed 2022-2023 school year budget and asked that the Board reinstate full funding for Great Bay Charter School (GBCS) and in addition cut 1% or $650,000 from the proposed budget. The Board discussed the BAC’s position at length, and in the end soundly rejected it in favor of keeping the budget as proposed by the SAU 16 Administration 8-1. While the Board expressed support for the programming at GBCS, only 1 member (Slifka) supported restoration of the funding. The discussion in favor of the funding cuts focused on several issues: (1) GBCS currently has an unreserved fund balance and received funds from the Federal Government in the form of COVID relief money; (2) GBCS has not made sufficient efforts to obtain funds from other districts that send students there; (3) if the Board is making cuts to the CMS, SST and EHS budgets, they should not be funding this budget at a level figure; and (4) philosophically some objected to any funding to a school that the SAU does not exercise control over. Members of the ERCSD board expressed concern of conflict of interest by Roy Morrisette and Lucy Cushman, both longtime members of BAC and trustees of GBCS. It should be noted that GBCS serves 150 students, over half from SAU16.

With regard to the BAC’s suggested reduction in the budget, the Board took issue with the fact that the BAC did not recommend specific line items to cut, and took offense at the BAC’s analysis of the annual spending of money from the unreserved fund balance. (The BAC does not have authority over line items in the budget – the Committee only gets to give input on the bottom-line number, as do the voters. The Administration can spend money within an approved budget as they see fit.) Some Board members felt that they needed to budget for any unforeseen contingency or emergency that could arise. Only one Board member (Slifka) expressed support for the position adopted by the BAC.

There was a refreshingly candid conversation during this meeting about the concerns related to a decline in academic performance in SAU 16. One member questioned the wisdom of eliminating six positions at CMS in light of the academic concerns. Dr. Ryan shared that the Administration is focused finding new ways to improve the quality of the student experience and outcomes at CMS, stating “what we have been doing has led to a decline in scores and a decline in achievement.” The Administration will be doing a deeper dive, in particular with regard to performance at the CMS, in early 2022. Readers should be on the lookout for ways for the greater school community, including parents and students, to provide feedback on this issue in the New Year.

The next ERCSD school board meeting will be held on December 21, where the board will vote for a final number to be presented at the budget hearing. The budget hearing will be held on January 11, where the budget will be presented to the public.

**An update has been made since the initial blog post publishing. Change includes the vote, which as been corrected to 6-2-1.

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