Winnisquam passes football, budget and contracts – but not kindergarten
There will be football next year in the Winnisquam Regional School District, paid for and overseen for the first time by the school district.
The second-to-last item on the warrant, the highly anticipated and hotly debated $28,000 proposed budget for the football program kept the more than 250 voters at the annual meeting through about five hours of discussion on other topics.
This was the fourth time in 13 years the district has voted on whether to pay for football through the school taxes. The Winnisquam district serves the towns of Northfield, Sanbornton and Tilton.
“It means everything to us,” Coach Pat Riberdy said after the vote 170-75 in favor of moving the team from a private nonprofit booster organization to a district program.
“It means the future of the program is ensured, and it means the school is watching over it for the safety of the kids,” he said.
Safety of the players was one concern raised by opponents. Liability should that safety be compromised was another.
“We’ve been watching over the last few years as we learn more about concussions and their devastating effects on many athletes. . . . What is the school doing, and what is the league doing to minimize the risk for the kids, and do we have insurance to cover a suit by an ex-player if he were to discover a concussion when he’s 30 years old?” asked Dick Gardner.
School board member Tricia Sawicki said the school is liable for injuries for all students, during school and athletic events, regardless of whether the program is taxpayer supported.
Athletic Director Zach Medlock said the team follows state law for protecting players from concussions, including testing equipment annually and having players sit out for treatment if a concussion is suspected.
Finances were another concern for opponents, who wanted to know how much the program would cost the district over 10 years. The $28,000 will provide for equipment and uniforms and other needs in the 2014-15 school year, and is an estimate of the yearly needs, but not a precise one, officials said.
After about an hour of debate, proponents won, to the relief of Scott Hilliard of Northfield.
“This group of individuals has done the most grassroots organizing for this I have ever seen,” he said before the vote. “I can’t eat any more of their brownies. I can’t go to any more of their car washes. The paint is chipping off my car, it’s been washed so well,” he said, earning laughter and applause from the crowd.
As Merrimack County’s sheriff, he added, “I applaud anyone doing anything constructive with our youth,” he said.
Voters, including a vocal minority attempting to cut spending in several areas, had plenty to say before the football program came up for debate.
Two attempts to trim the budget – first by 10 percent and then by about 3.2 percent – were defeated. It passed as drafted by the budget committee at $24.74 million, an increase of about half a percent from the current budget.
Voters also passed – after considerable debate – multiyear contracts with teachers, paraprofessionals and custodians that added $782,440 in spending this year.
The contract with teachers for the next three years begins to dramatically change the district’s salary structure. The current 42 steps on the salary ladder will be cut to 10 by the end of the contract.
“The ultimate objective is to have zero steps and have performance-based metrics,” said school board member Wayne Crowley. “The private sector does it, and this is the first step.”
First-year teachers will be offered a salary of $34,000 next year, instead of the $31,000 they would have been offered this year; the base salary increases again to $35,200 in 2015-16 and to $36,200 in 2016-17.
The district’s starting salary is the 23rd-lowest of the state’s 158 districts. “To expect a four-year college graduate to go into a classroom of 15 to 20 students for $31,000 is asking too much when they could just go down the road to Shaker and make more money,” he said.
Teachers at the other end of the career ladder are being offered a $6,000 payment toward health insurance costs for up to five years if they retire before they are eligible for Medicare.
Voters turned down only one proposal on the warrant – a petition request to begin full-day kindergarten, a move not supported by the school board or the budget committee.
“We still support the concept of full-day kindergarten, but we didn’t think the taxpayers could afford it this year,” said Tim Lang, a board member from Sanbornton.
The meeting closed with a round of applause from all sides for Moderator Kent Finemore, who guided discussion from the crowd, handled three secret ballot votes, half a dozen division votes and one change to his staff, when he asked Riberdy to step down as assistant moderator so the coach wouldn’t be involved in counting the votes on the football program.
“I guess masochist and moderator are interchangeable, because I’ve been elected to do this for another year,” he said.
(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)