Concord city-schools committee revived, will meet for first time in 2 years

Concord City Hall

Concord City Hall

By CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN

Monitor staff

Published: 04-16-2024 4:19 PM

After the close of their budget planning seasons and with a mounting list of major construction projects between them, a joint committee between city and school district leaders — including both Concord and Merrimack Valley — will reconvene this summer for the first time in almost two years. 

Entering office, Mayor Byron Champlin said, he reviewed the long list of city committees and evaluated “whether these were committees that actually met and actually had a purpose.”  While the joint committee had not met in some time, “in talking to the school districts and talking to the city manager, I felt that there was value in having periodical meetings of joint meetings between the two school districts and the city,” Champlin said. 

As the “formal means of cooperation and communication of the City Council and the School Board,” the committee brings together both elected and administrative leaders from city government and the two area school districts. It has historically been a venue for mutual updates and open dialogue rather than developing action, according to its records. Merrimack Valley School District has been represented at only a few of those meetings, the most recent time in 2016, according to past minutes. 

While Concord school and city staff are in regular communication — especially when it comes to collaborative efforts such as renovations at Memorial Field — maximizing those channels benefits all parties, Concord School Board President Pamela Walsh said.

“It's important that we keep the lines of communication open,” she said. “This is another avenue to talk about … how we can continue to work better together, or concerns that the city may have or the school district may have.” 

Merrimack Valley Superintendent Randy Wormald similarly voiced support for periodic meetings between the three parties. 

“It's never a bad thing to have these kinds conversations,” he said. “I'm really just going in with an open mind.”

The meeting comes as both the Concord School District and the city simultaneously pursue generational capital projects — a new middle school, a new police station, substantial improvements to Memorial Field and the renovation or replacement of the clubhouse at Beaver Meadow Golf Course. Several of those endeavors, most notably those at the middle school and Beaver Meadow, have faced blowback from residents, who have appealed that there’s only so much added tax burden they can carry amid rising costs for regular school and city services.

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“This was not created in order to address issues that have been raised about any policy decisions that the Concord School Board has made or has not made,” Champlin emphasized. Its purpose is to “foster good communication” by hosting roundtable discussions for leaders from each party to raise topics they feel are important to the group. 

While Champlin’s call for the committee to reconvene may be professedly unrelated, major capital projects on both sides may shape the committee’s conversations.

“I think we definitely have to continue to talk and coordinate so that we can think about how to mitigate the combined impact on taxpayers of some of these projects,” Walsh said. “But certainly we know the city has priorities as well, and we want to talk to them about that.”

When asked whether public pressure about capital projects and taxes put added pressure on the work of the committee, Champlin responded, “I think it certainly frames part of the discussion, but it may not frame the entire discussion.” 

Capital projects — including those currently on the table — have been featured prominently in the committee’s past meetings, according to its minutes, alongside topics like changing city demographics and declining district enrollment, presentations of annual budgets, economic development downtown and anti-racism initiatives. 

Amid skyrocketing transportation and special education costs partially related to serving students who are housing insecure, and with city goals to improve housing availability and coordinate solutions for those without housing, committee discussions are also likely to include work on meeting the needs of those experiencing homelessness in the city, Walsh said. 

Merrimack Valley is especially interested in progress updates on proposed developments in or near Penacook, such as Monitor Way, Wormald said. 

Available minutes stretch back to as early as 2008, when the committee met five times, but its schedule has grown increasingly sporadic since. Throughout the 2010s it met roughly twice per year, though some years it didn’t meet at all. It has convened twice in the last five years — once in the fall of 2020 and again in the summer of 2022 — and a total of eight times in the last decade. 

Champlin said his intention is for the committee to return to a regular, biannual schedule. It’s first meeting is currently scheduled for June 7 at the Concord School District offices. It will include members of City Council and the city manager’s office alongside top administrators and school board representation from Concord and Merrimack Valley.