Boscawen voters: More transparency on International Baccalaureate program
After a relatively quiet evening in which most warrant articles passed unanimously, Boscawen’s town meeting ended with an impassioned debate over the Merrimack Valley School District’s funding for the International Baccalaureate program and a call by voters for more transparency.
“The reason this is so important is that sooner or later, the IB program, it is expanding and it’s going to become so costly, and the grants that are funding it right now are going to dry up. And one of these years we’re going to have a giant surprise that ‘Oh, by the way, it’s our problem,’ ” said Bill Murphy, a member of Boscawen’s budget committee and frequent critic of the school board.
Murphy introduced a nonbinding resolution requesting the school board print all sources of revenue and spending related to the program in next year’s annual district report. He made this request to board members at last week’s annual district meeting, and board members said providing the information would be possible. Lorrie Carey, a school board member from Boscawen and state representative, came out sharply against Murphy’s request, saying he and others were fear-mongering and fueling conspiracy theories about the program’s ties to the United Nations.
“For some reason there’s this conspiracy theory about IB,” she said. “It has nothing to do with educating the children, it has to do with individuals believing it’s the U.N. takeover of the world.”
Voters approved the resolution, 36-28, after rejecting Carey’s motion to table it.
Also at the meeting, the $3.09 million budget, up 2.2 percent from last year, passed without discussion. Voters also approved adding $170,000 to various capital reserve funds, redesignating the purpose of a facilities capital reserve fund and appropriating money to the Penacook Community Center, Boscawen Historical Society and Penacook Rescue Squad.
Murphy told the crowd he was making his IB request for the sake of transparency because the school district is a main consumer of tax dollars. The board has never provided detailed information on where the money for IB comes from and how it is used, he said. If the grant money dries up, residents need to know what the program costs, he said.
“And when it becomes our problem, we can say ‘No, we don’t want it anymore,’ ” he said.
The district pays for the program through grants, and that information is available to anyone who calls the administrative office, Carey said. The district never prints accounts of federal grants in the annual report because it would take up extra pages and cost more money. But the district must strictly report grant activities to the government anyway, so all of the information is available, she said. Furthermore, IB is a teaching method, and the district has used grant money for professional development purposes for years, she said.
“If we printed all the federal grant detail in the annual report it would be the size of War and Peace,” she said.
Murphy and others, including Salisbury Selectman Ken Ross-Raymond, who presented the same resolution to Salisbury voters, are trying to accuse the teachers, administrators and school board of a cover-up and conspiracy that does not exist, Carey said.
After Murphy’s resolution passed by 12 votes, he came to the microphone again.
“Just remember who didn’t want you to know,” he told voters.
“That’s bullsh--,” Carey stood up and said. “I appreciate you want to know, but this insinuating, this is bullsh--, and I don’t mind saying it. And somebody needs to stand up and say it’s time we take back our town from people who are fear-mongers. It’s time we get involved with our schools and see what’s there, and to insinuate that this information is not available is a bunch of crap.”
One voter stood up making a motion to seal the proposal from being reconsidered, and the meeting promptly adjourned. After the meeting, Carey sent an email to the selectmen and other town officials apologizing for her strong language.
All three selectmen voted in favor of Murphy’s motion. Boscawen residents are generous and generally supportive of education, said Chairman Craig Saltmarsh. Supporting Murphy’s amendment, he said, was about making sure voters have every piece of information possible.
“We just want to make sure we know where we’re headed,” he said.
Aside from the IB proposal, the article generating the most discussion was to redesign the purpose of the town recreation and senior center facility capital reserve fund to apply to any facilities within the Parks and Recreation Department. In 2007, the town made plans to build a state-of-the-art senior and recreational center, but that has been put on hold since the economy collapsed. There are other buildings in town, such as the old town hall and the old fire station, that are in need of repair.
During that discussion and at the end of the meeting, fire Chief Ray Fisher and other voters spoke up about buildings that need repair.
“We’re at a point where we’ve got to spend some serious money to keep town buildings standing, and I just think it would be a good idea to get the input from the townspeople so that the board and everyone else knows what avenue should be taken,” Fisher said.
A committee has been established to evaluate need and set priorities, and the selectmen will bring any proposals to a public hearing before spending from the fund.
“I don’t think it’s up to us as a group of three to make these decisions,” said Selectman Roger Sanborn.
Voters also re-elected Saltmarsh over former selectman Ed Maloof.