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Merrimack Valley School District voters approve full-day kindergarten

  • Amanda Lessard reads through the budget presented to residents at the Merrimack Valley School District meeting while holding her daughter Bella, 15 months, at the annual meeting on Thursday night, March 6, 2014. Residents voted to pass the budget. <br/><br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Amanda Lessard reads through the budget presented to residents at the Merrimack Valley School District meeting while holding her daughter Bella, 15 months, at the annual meeting on Thursday night, March 6, 2014. Residents voted to pass the budget.


    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Residents vote on the Merrimack Valley School District budget during the annual meeting on Thursday, March 6, 2014 at Merrimack Valley High School.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Residents vote on the Merrimack Valley School District budget during the annual meeting on Thursday, March 6, 2014 at Merrimack Valley High School.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Jeremy Miner, right, of Loudon, comforts his daughter Aspen, 8, while registering with the supervisor of the checklist before voting for school board members at the Merrimack Valley School District meeting on Thursday night, March 6, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Jeremy Miner, right, of Loudon, comforts his daughter Aspen, 8, while registering with the supervisor of the checklist before voting for school board members at the Merrimack Valley School District meeting on Thursday night, March 6, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Marjorie Schoonmaker, left, supervisor of the checklist for Loudon, and Melvin Boune, supervisor of the checklist for Salisbury, count ballots after a vote on an amendment to the Merrimack Valley School District budget on Thursday night, March 6, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Marjorie Schoonmaker, left, supervisor of the checklist for Loudon, and Melvin Boune, supervisor of the checklist for Salisbury, count ballots after a vote on an amendment to the Merrimack Valley School District budget on Thursday night, March 6, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Amanda Lessard reads through the budget presented to residents at the Merrimack Valley School District meeting while holding her daughter Bella, 15 months, at the annual meeting on Thursday night, March 6, 2014. Residents voted to pass the budget. <br/><br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Residents vote on the Merrimack Valley School District budget during the annual meeting on Thursday, March 6, 2014 at Merrimack Valley High School.<br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Jeremy Miner, right, of Loudon, comforts his daughter Aspen, 8, while registering with the supervisor of the checklist before voting for school board members at the Merrimack Valley School District meeting on Thursday night, March 6, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Marjorie Schoonmaker, left, supervisor of the checklist for Loudon, and Melvin Boune, supervisor of the checklist for Salisbury, count ballots after a vote on an amendment to the Merrimack Valley School District budget on Thursday night, March 6, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

Full-day kindergarten in the Merrimack Valley School District will begin this fall.

Voters approved the full-day plan and its $194,310 first-year price tag at last night’s meeting, and rejected an amendment proposed by a Loudon resident to cut money from the program.

The district’s $37.08 million operating budget also was approved after a secret ballot vote to reduce the appropriation failed, 228-158.

Last night’s decision came after a task force recommended the switch from half-day kindergarten in the district, which serves Boscawen, Loudon, Penacook, Webster and Salisbury.

“For (the cost), one-half of 1 percent of our total budget, Merrimack Valley can more than double the amount of time kindergarten students spend in school,” said Laura Vincent, a school board member from Loudon.

Roy Merrill of Loudon proposed amending the appropriation from $194,310 to $119,310. He said the district should ask parents to pay some of the cost to send their children to all-day kindergarten.

“I do think the parents could pick up $500 worth of the costs to educate their kids and not expect someone else to pay for it,” he said.

District leadership had been considering full-day kindergarten for the past year. A task force with members from the district’s five towns recommended the switch from the current model, which has a 2½-hour day. The full-day is 6½ hours.

To staff the program, the district will need to hire up to 5½ new teachers at a cost of $332,750. There are currently 5½ kindergarten teachers in the district.

That cost is offset by $145,440 in savings from eliminating daytime transportation for half-day kindergarten students.

Lisa Laughlin of Loudon, who spoke in favor of the district, said she had volunteered in kindergarten classrooms with her two kids.

“You could tell the kids who have been to preschool and kindergarten programs are better prepared,” Laughlin said. “We can deal with it now, or we can deal with it later.”

Information distributed at the meeting said 59 percent of children entering Merrimack Valley’s kindergarten program in 2012 were vulnerable and at risk of falling behind before their first day of school. Thirty-six percent were still performing below grade level at year’s end.

The kindergarten vote came three hours into the meeting, after Merrill’s proposal to cut the district’s operating budget required a secret ballot vote that took more than 30 minutes.

He proposed cutting $363,467 from the operating budget, about 1 percent more than the current year budget and 1 percent less than the proposed.

“I think there is plenty of room in this budget for 1 percent less,” he said.

His motion came after school board member Troy Cowan of Loudon reviewed the proposal, which includes a 2 percent increase. Half of the increase – about $400,000 – is because the district’s insurance carrier increased rates by 9 percent. The proposal also included funding of about $45,000 for a full-time math specialist to help with districtwide professional development, instruction and programming.

“We think we put together a good budget, and we stand behind it,” said Cowan, who is the district’s budget committee chairman.

Support for the proposal was split.

“I don’t see any extravagant spending here,” said Karen Page of Webster. “The only thing we could really cut are the benefits and the programs to (students), and I think that is a huge mistake.”

The lingering effects of a sluggish economy still affect the friends and family of Boscawen resident Bill Heinz. For this reason, he spoke in favor of the cuts.

“Is it the right number? Maybe it’s a little steep, but I think we can hold the programs we’ve got by sharpening our pencils a bit,” Heinz said.

Immediately after the budget vote, they considered a three-year teachers’ contract. The contract, approved separately from the budget as a warrant article, would add $577,894 to the budget this year. The contract includes no percent salary increases in the first two years of the contract, and includes two-step increases in 2014-15 for some teachers and 2015-16 for others.

Employees’ health care contributions will increase each year, eventually reaching 10 percent for a single person, 14 percent for a plan covering two people and 20 percent for a plan covering a family.

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or iwilson@cmonitor.com.)

Legacy Comments6

The teachers certainly did vote. Approximately 230 of them voted to increase taxes for all of those that did not bother to vote, by 14%!!! Wait until you get your tax bills that reflect these increases. AND DON"T COMPLAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh well, I guess you'll just have to "shrug" it off . . . btw could you tell us where the "fountainhead" of your hatred for public education originated?

Thanks voters for bringing MV out of the dark ages.

On behalf of all the MVSD staff who live in district, I would like to apologize for caring about our students to much. We will work harder to move out of district and care less about all 5 of the communities. It is naive to believe that if more voters showed up items would not pass, more often than not education is supported by the local citizens because they understand how important it is for the success of our towns, and the future of our children and grandchildren.

The only reason the warrant passed in the MVSD is that the majority of the voters was dominated as usual by teachers, employees, and their spouses and friends. That is the only reason all this money is spent. School districts are the only place that teachers and employees get to have their wages and benefits negotiated, then these same people vote on the negotiations, and then go to the school district meeting and vote in their wage and benefits increase. I do not feel for the taxpayer as their are over 11,000 voters in the school district and most of them chose to stay home.

Damn teachers . . . exercising their Constitutional right to vote. On an education-related note - ". . . is that the majority of the voters was dominated . . . "

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