School board looks to deal with budget gap
WILMINGTON- The final year of the Twin Valley Joint School District may end with an uncharacteristic budget deficit, Windham Southwest Supervisory Union’s business manager Karen Atwood warned Tuesday evening.
Atwood told board members that, according to the latest budget forecast, the district is slated to end its final year on June 30 nearly $6,000 short. On June 30 the joint contract district will cease to exist and, on July 1, the two towns’ districts will be merged to create the Twin Valley Unified Union School District.
The main cause of the shortfall has been unexpected maintenance expense at Twin Valley High School, Atwood told board members. Earlier in the year, the board replaced an oil-fired boiler that failed during a long cold spell, and had to repair the school’s woodchip boiler after a catastrophic failure that caused the sprinkler pipes to burst and flood the boiler building. “It’s been one issue after another,” she said. “Now there’s a problem with one HRE (heat exchange units) on the roof, and there’s a quote of $3,400 to fix it.”
Board members asked whether the heat exchange unit, which was installed during the merger renovation/construction project four years ago, might be covered under warranty. “It’s expired,” Atwood said. “We’re in year four now, and it’s just the electronic part of it that needs to be replaced.”
Board member James Walker identified the part as the “variable frequency drive,” which controls volume of air exchanged based on several factors. He suggested that, if needed, the electronic unit could be bypassed to run at a single speed, at least until the beginning of the upcoming 2019 budget.
Twin Valley Middle High School Principal Tom Fitzgerald said there are additional heating issues looming. He said the heating pipes feeding the administrative pod may not be correctly sized for the heating needs of that area. “Every winter when it gets below 15 degrees, we can’t get the offices above 60 degrees,” he said. “Some mornings we walked in and it’s at 57 degrees, but Mark has been up all night forcing heat into the offices.”
In other matters, preschool teacher Carol Mandracchia updated the board on the school’s outdoor woods and nature program. The program utilizes trails on the school property and an outdoor classroom shelter for outdoor education in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade.
But Mandracchia said teachers and staff have found that the program provides more than just the nature education, it has also had an impact on students’ social interaction and behavior. Students who may not get along together in the classroom collaborate in their explorations on the trail, she said, and students who are more reserved in the classroom become more outgoing and adventurous in the outdoors.
Mandracchia said the TVES program was developed after she attended an Antioch symposium several years ago. “As a public school teacher, I was an anomaly,” she said. “Most people there were from nonprofit outdoor programs.”
Board members also continued their debate about hiring a police school resource officer at Twin Valley Middle High School. Superintendent Chris Pratt handed out a copy of Brattleboro Union High School’s contract and their $69,000 budget for a school resource officer. “Just to give you an idea what it looks like if you decided to pursue having an SRO.”
Board members agreed the matter should be part of a communitywide discussion.
“Maybe it’s a discussion we can have over the summer, and if people are interested we can budget for it,” said board member Dennis Richter. “But let’s at least have the conversation this summer.”
But Fitzgerald said that, if the money were to be spent with security in mind, he and TVES Principal Becca Fillion would prefer to spend it on a school social worker who would work with students and families. “All the (school safety) infrastructure and recommendations are in place here,” Fillion agreed. “We think about the need for kids in trouble and suffering trauma to feel worth and value so they won’t make negative choices.”