Voters Boost Cost of Proposed School Construction Bond

HAMPSTEAD – The Hampstead School District Deliberative Session drew an audience of about 70 residents and 11 visitors but offered little in the way of excitement. Two articles were amended, both of them by the School Board and necessitated by updated financial information.

The first amendment at the Tuesday, Feb. 4 session, was to Article 3, the School District’s operating budget bottom line, the result of an announcement last week by Pinkerton Academy that it was lowering its 4.9 percent tuition rate increase to 3.5 percent. This translated into a $59,789 savings for Hampstead.

The School Board proposed and approved amending the operating budget from $23,863,412 down to $23,803,623 to reflect the lowered tuition rate.

The other amendment made by the School Board was to Article 2, the proposed $6,180,520 bond to construct Phase I renovations for Hampstead Central and Hampstead Middle schools.

The board received information the day of the Deliberative from the New Hampshire Municipal Bond Bank that the figure for the first’s year’s interest payment on the bond had to be increased from $133,911.27 to $178,548.36 – that translates to an increase of $44,637.09.

Bread Loaf Director of Architecture Chris Huston gave a brief presentation of the proposed projects. The proposal calls for a two story addition containing six classrooms at Central, as well as expansions to the kindergarten classes to bring them into size compliance, energy-efficient wall and window repairs in the kindergarten wing, addition of an elevator, and construction of a hallway to connect the new construction to the existing structure. The school’s portable classrooms would no longer be used.

At Hampstead Middle School the proposed project would create a new entrance and the library would be reconfigured and modernized.

Resident Jorge Mesa-Tejada put on a presentation that focused on whether the Central School addition was needed. He said the addition of six classrooms is not justified, but everything else proposed at Central School is warranted. He based his claim that the new addition is not needed on showing that the building is not being used to full capacity, with sufficient space available within the existing structure for the number of students enrolled and projected.

He asked residents to vote No on the article.

Resident Joe Tabbi pointed out that in a previous year, the School District wanted to buy land adjacent to Central School for an addition. Tabbi said the state requires additional land for any additional construction at the site, and he asked if the state has been notified about the planned construction and had approved a permit to do the construction without additional land.

The board said it knew nothing about this.

Budget Committee Chairman Matt Murphy said the public should be made aware that the real cost of the proposed project when the 10-year bond interest is added is over $7 million, rather than $6,180,520.

The bond issue, Article 2 as amended by the change to the first year interest payment, was moved to the warrant without any further changes.

Article 3, the operating budget, drew discussion surrounding whether the voters were being provided with transparency when they were told the proposed budget is up .04 percent or $95,471 more than the previous year.

Murphy pointed out the previous year’s budget included Hampstead’s portion of the School Administrative Unit (SAU) 55 budget in a line item, while this year’s budget does not include the town’s portion of the SAU 55 budget. Instead, the SAU budget faces voters as a separate warrant article.

The board acknowledged this and noted that when the SAU 55 portion is added to the proposed Hampstead School District budget, the total increase rises to .98 percent. The board said that is still below the board’s and administration’s goal of a 1 percent increase.

Also up for discussion was staffing, noting the need for an additional teacher at the middle school saying but a teacher could be cut at Central School.

Board member Jaye Diamando said the board made the decision to keep the Central School teacher’s salary in the budget because the enrollment figures could change, with only an increase of a very few students needed to justify retaining that teacher. If the numbers don’t justify retention, the teacher could be given the option of moving to the middle school, eliminating the need to hire an additional teacher.

No changes to the operating budget other than the reduction due to the Pinkerton Academy tuition were made and the article was moved as amended to the warrant.

Article 4, the SAU 55 budget, asks voters to approve $329,283 as Hampstead’s portion of the SAU 55 budget. This was moved to the warrant without any change or amendment. However, Article 7, a citizen’s petition article to Rescind the SAU Budget alternative procedure, which now takes the line item out of the town budget and makes it a separate article, was presented by former School Board member Judy Graham.

Graham said she objects to the current situation, and said one of the unintended consequences of the change is that there is less flexibility within the budget because it is no longer a part of a much bigger budget that could absorb unexpected changes.

She said the stand-alone SAU budget has to cover the liability of all employees possibly taking insurance, causing an increase in the budget. If the SAU budget had been a part of the school district budget, such an eventuality could have been handled within the much larger budget without adding the increase.

She said the SAU budget should be returned as a line item within the School District budget.

Article 5 asks residents to approve putting $75,000 of surplus into the School Renovation, Reconstruction and Capital Improvement Capital Reserve Fund established in 2006. That fund now has $235,000 in it.

Mesa-Tejada spoke against this, saying this should be skipped this year in view of the hit already being absorbed by residents because of the new police station construction. There was no change to the article and it was forwarded to the warrant.

The warrant goes to the voters March 11.

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