Published DateBy Lloyd Jones
BARTLETT — Voters at annual Bartlett School District meeting Tuesday approved $33,000 for school security equipment but rejected a $40,000 article to tear down a former church building now owned by the district.
The budget, which was down from last year, sailed through without a single comment.
The gymnasium at the Josiah Bartlett Elementary School was packed with nearly 400 citizens, with several people standing throughout the 85-minute meeting.
"I'm so glad to see so many people turning out this year," school board member Rob Clark said at the outset of the meeting as he started to review the proposed 2013-14 school budget. "Part of that may be due to discussion at last year's school meeting and throughout this past year (at monthly school board meetings). It's really great to see."
School moderator Jim Miller, who did a great job of keeping the legislative body informed while sprinkling in bits of humor, asked the audience to be "courteous, fair and to have civil debate" through the evening, and that was the recipe for the night.
"The fire chief has informed me of some important life-safety measures," Miller said with a grin. "The fire department will hold a corned beef and cabbage dinner from 5 to 7 p.m. this Saturday."
Vicki Harlow, chair of the school board, opened the meeting asking for a moment of silence to honor the memory of the late Frank Graham, of Glen, who had been longtime advocate for the school and mentor to so many children.
Harlow also took a moment to thank retiring school board member Dan Perley, who was stepping down after six years of service. "I always appreciated his business sense," she said.
The school budget itself was down 2.27 percent over this year's figure, and chief among the $173,608 in savings was the reduction of two teachers and other personnel.
Health insurance was down $53,213 while dental insurance also fell $3,200.
"We met several times last fall to look at ways to trim the budget," Clark said. "Kudos have to go to (Josiah Bartlett Elementary School principal) Joe (Voci) and the staff. They had things in motion before we even got started. Their pencils had already been sharpened."
School superintendent Carl Nelson, a Bartlett resident, went over the decreases and increases in the budget. "As Rob said, I think it's a very good budget and it reflects a decrease," he said.
The budget was approved by an overwhelming amount of yays.
Voters did amend Article No. 3, which had sought $7,000 to initiate the next phase of the elementary school's technology program. Over the last handful of years the request had been for $14,000. The school board thought this might be a year where it could get by with the request cut in half, but citizens were keen to stay on top of technology and proud of the advancements the students have made.
Clark said the reduction was "a sign of good faith to the town" and that it would seek a return to $14,000 next year.
"We've been very fortunate with technology here," he said. "When our students go on to Kennett High, the comment we often hear made is that our kids are more tech savvy than others — and that's not to diss any other town."
Resident Meg Murphy said it was important to stay on the forefront of technology and made the motion to amend the figure to $14,000.
Fellow resident Dick Ficke drew huge ovation when he pointed out that a lot of the software work done for the Kennett High robots was done by a Bartlett elementary school student.
Uwe Schneider, another resident, echoed similar sentiments and said the additional $7,000 "would be well spent." The article then passed by voice vote.
The longest discussion of the night centered on Article No. 7, which sought $33,000 to purchase and install security equipment at the school.
Article 7 was added to the warrant Feb. 5 by a 4-0 vote of the board.
Jim Hill, business administrator for SAU 9, explained security upgrades were being discussed prior to the Sandy Hook school tragedy in December. This could be the first in a six-phase security plan. The first phase includes upgrading to magnetic locks; developing a badge system for the school; installing a remote access camera; and finishing outfitting every door with magnetic locks. The remote access camera, according to Hill, would be set up on the doors to the front of the school. A buzzer will be in the main office and the only way a person will be admitted is if they buzz the front office and that person is comfortable letting the individual in.
"This is something we've visited a number of times here in Bartlett," Perley said, referring to enhanced security measures.
"I'm not going to be the one to speak against this and then God forbid something were to happen," resident Norman Head said, but wondered what the plans were for the library.
Board member Nancy Kelemen explained anyone visiting the library before 3:15 p.m. would need to be buzzed in through the remote access cameras and doors. The main doors would be unlocked at 3:15 p.m. allowing access to the library through its main entrance.
Resident Julia King voiced concern over all of the glass on school doors and the numerous windows on the campus.
"If someone comes up with an AK-47 it would be so easy to get in," she said. "Locking the doors is great but if someone comes up with a weapon of mass destruction it's a band-aid."
"The intent and purpose are to give an increased sense of security," Perley replied.
Resident Joan Heysler spoke about the school staff taking part in regular safety training exercises but she also didn't want her children "to grow up in a small locked community."
Bartlett police chief Tim Connifey, Bartlett fire chief Pat Roberts and resident Jon Hebert, formerly of the Carroll County Sheriff's Department, all spoke in favor of the article.
"This is a reasonable step forward to keep keeping our kids safe," Hebert said.
Resident Doug Garland said he'd like to see the six phases before voting.
"I'm not opposed to the amount of money," he said. "I'd go 10 times that amount if I knew it was going to save lives. What are we proposing above and beyond what Sandy Hook had? I'm not sure if we're buying anything more than false security. What makes this anymore than a feel-good effort?"
"There's nothing in place now to prevent someone coming through these front doors and doing harm," Hebert replied. "If it's better than nothing, it's an improvement."
Resident Anne McCandless explained that her family nearly moved to Sandy Hook in 2009 and her son would have been in first grade there this year.
"I think we have to do something," she said.
Resident Richard Chrenko wondered about security in the school after hours.
"Does someone come and sweep the trails?" he asked.
"We have custodians who literally and figuratively come and sweep the building," Perley said with a wide smile in offering perhaps the line of the night.
The article was approved by a wide voice margin.
The other hot topic of the night was Article No. 6 which sought $40,000 for the purpose of demolishing the district-owned church property. The article failed after some good discussion.
Harlow explained the district purchased the St. Joseph's Church (formerly St. Mary's) in 1999 from the Bishop of Manchester, but has not been able to hold activities in the building due to asbestos, which has been abated, and a lead problem throughout the building. The plan would be to demolish the church to create additional school parking.
"If we're trying to save money, here is a place to do it," Heysler said and explained she had asked at last month's public hearing on the warrant if this project had to be done now and was told it did not.
Garland also voiced his opposition to destroying the church.
"I'm opposed to this, it's tearing down a part of Bartlett history," he said. "This is a piece of history. I hope the voters will not haphazardly vote to tear this down."
Head suggested forming a community committee to investigate solutions of what to do about the church, from restoring it to relocating it. He agreed to lead the committee.
Resident Leslie Mallett said the church holds a special place in her heart.
"I was baptized in this church," she said. "I was married in this church. My children were confirmed there and my grandmother cleaned this church. I think we're going about this the wrong way in looking to destroy the building. Let's see what we can do to preserve it."
Voting for school offices takes place this Tuesday at the Bartlett Town Hall in Intervale from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.