Friday, January 26, 2007

School bond cut to $10.5M Middle school addition eliminated

Is the Newport school board more concerned about looks or spending our tax dollars wisely?

Jim and Cathy attended their first school board meeting on Thursday January 25th. Prior to attending the meeting we did some primarily research on school district spending. Our resource was the financial reports from the New Hampshire Department of Education. During the 1998-1999 school year spending per pupil for Pre-School-12 was 5724.70 in 2004-2005 the amount spent per pupil for Pre-School - 12 was 9729.73. This is an increase of 70.9%. During this same time period inflation only rose about 17%. We expressed our concern about costs far exceeding the rate of inflation. We also expressed concern over the possibility of building a new school because the student population has been decreasing instead of increasing.

The story below appeared in the Eagle Times on Friday, January 26th.

School bond cut to $10.5M
Middle school addition eliminated

Aaron Aldridge
Contributing Writer

NEWPORT - The Newport School Board approved a scaled down version of a school building proposal at Thursday night's meeting that would drastically cut the impact on the local school property tax, but would still move six-graders out of the middle school and back to Towle School.

"We've really slashed it by a third," Newport building committee member Tony DiPadova said. "What we've really come down with is a bare bones project."

The new $10.5 million bonding proposal will not include the construction of a new middle school, but major renovations to Richards School were left intact.

"We're simply doing life safety at the high school and Towle," DiPadova said.

If the project is approved by voters, residents would see a property tax increase of about $1.22 per $1,000 of property value the first year, $3.01 the second year and $2.91 the third year.

Newport Superintendent Bill Mealey said the property tax increases were only an estimate and said the final numbers would be available sometime today. The building committee approached the board with a proposal of $10,434,000 for the school renovations which include a major addition to Richards School, life safety projects at Towle School and the middle high school. After some discussion by board members, an additional $41,000 was added to the grand total for "bump-outs" on the proposed Richards School multi-purpose room bringing the grand total to $10,475,000.

The board was split 2-2 on its first vote and the proposal failed due in part to board member Kathy Sarles objection to the $41,000 addition.

"For me it's just adding things back," Sarles said. "$41,000 isn't a lot of money, but it's not educationally based. It's aesthetics."

A second vote was called to accept the building committee's initial recommendation without the additional $41,000 and that vote was also defeated 2-2.

The discussion over the final project amount the board wanted to put before voters lasted almost two hours with the focus primarily on the final tax impact.

Sarles said she wanted to keep the tax rate impact under $3 per thousand dollars of property value and the additional $41,000 added to the project would put that rate at $3.01. She said she didn't think voters would approve anything over the $3 threshold.

School board chairman Anthony McConnell said he wanted a unanimous vote from the board, but said if he couldn't get it, he still wanted the aesthetics added to the Richards School addition.

Just before the third vote was called Sarles said she felt she was in a predicament.

The final vote approving the proposal was unanimous.

"I have a different feeling about what will be accepted," Sarles said.

Included in the proposal are new lockers for students at the middle high school, reengineering of the parking lot in front of the middle high school and life safety renovations at all three schools.

The original proposal before the school board had included a two-story addition at the high •school which would have housed all of the middle school students. That proposal was in excess of $15 million and would have added $1.78 to the tax rate the first year.

The bond and school budget will be voted on at the annual school meeting in March.

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