Deerfield residents talk Concord High contract, teacher salaries at deliberative session

  • Deerfield residents raise their placards at the 2023 deliberative session held at Deerfield Community School on Feb. 11, 2023. Eileen O'Grady—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 2/13/2023 5:05:12 PM
Modified: 2/13/2023 5:04:24 PM

Deerfield residents discussed an increase to the school budget and a boost in teacher salaries, but a 20-year tuition agreement with Concord dominated a lengthy deliberative session this weekend.

About 60 voters gathered in the Deerfield Community School gymnasium Saturday to discuss the articles that will appear on the ballot in March.

The proposed school budget for 2023-2024 is $15.88 million, a 4% increase from the previous operating budget of $15.2 million, not including last year’s building repair trust fund. The tax impact would be around $16.58 per $1,000 of valuation, which is an 87 cent increase over the previous tax rate.

“The approach is the same as every year, we always start with a zero-line budget and then we build up,” said School Board Chair Zachary Langlois. “Very similar to years past, no significant changes as far as staffing, All in all, it's a pretty flat budget we're presenting.”

If voters reject the school budget, a default budget of $15.82 million would go into effect.

At the meeting, voters approved an amendment to remove $69,286 from the school budget that had been allocated for high school transportation. The money had been added by the Municipal Budget Committee for another bus route if a driver became available, but school board members said with the current driver shortage Deerfield is unlikely to find enough drivers to put that money to use.

Also on the warrant is a four-year teachers’ contract that would include a $223,437 budget increase next year, an additional $228,752 increase in year two, a $234,011 increase in year three and a $239,484 in year four. Deerfield teacher salaries currently range from $39,995 to $74,815.

The most controversial item on Deerfield’s warrant is the question of whether to approve a 20-year tuition agreement with the Concord School District. It’s been topic of heavy debate this year between residents who support the Concord contract and those who want more high school choice. The question will be placed on the March warrant without any changes.

Deerfield, which does not have its own high school, has sent students to Concord via a tuition contract for the past 19 years. If renewed, at least 90% of Deerfield’s public school students would be required to attend Concord High School. Up to 10% can go to other districts, but would have to apply for a hardship exemption to do so. The contract would run from 2024 to 2044 with the option to re-negotiate after 12-years in 2036.

Deerfield resident Maryann Clark said she trusts that the board-negotiated contract is right for the town.

“What really made Concord a good match for Deerfield is how it supported the community,” Clark said. “We have a community of students who have high needs. We also have a community of students who want high academic challenges...who want athletic challenges...who want technical hands-on learning and workforce preparation. And we have a community of citizens who have different resources, some of those citizens have very limited income.”

But others said the Board should have provided voters with multiple schools to choose from.

“What you should have done is presented the people in this room with options this year that would have definitively told you what we wanted,” said Deerfield resident Greg Whitmore. “And then come back the next year with a Concord contract if we told you that is what we wanted.”

Another ballot question was submitted by resident petition asks if the Deerfield School District should contract with and pay tuition to more than one high school, “for the purpose of accommodating high school choice.” On Saturday, voters amended the article to clarify that it refers only to public schools. Voters also amended the question to make it “advisory” and non-binding for the school district so as not conflict with the Concord contract if  both questions pass.

Ballot voting on the Deerfield town and school warrants will take place March 14 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at t he Town Hall, 8 Raymond Rd.

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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