Hopkinton voters will go back for third time to decide on school spending

  • The two lanes in the Hopkinton High School parking lot for the voting on Saturday morning, May 30, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 8/13/2020 3:23:08 PM

Hopkinton residents will vote on a school budget for the third time Saturday to determine whether the district will operate on a new budget with some reductions, or revert to last year’s budget, resulting in significant cuts to programs.

The proposed budget on the ballot for Saturday is $20,923,855, a 1.8% increase over last year’s budget. If passed, the increase would add about $14 a year to annual property taxes for a house valued at $200,000, according to the school district website. 

“It still is an increase. We realize that. But we feel that it is money well-spent on student programs,” board member Rob Nadeau said in a school district meeting Monday night. “That is the reason that we are in business.”

The original proposal for this year’s school budget, developed in the spring, was $21.4 million, which had a 24-cent increase per $1,000 of assessed value, or a $48 bump on property taxes for a $200,000 house. Voters rejected this proposal and five amendments to it in the polls, along with the second proposal which was $21 million.

On June 18, Superintendent Steve Chamberlin told board members that about $954,508 worth of cuts would have to happen in order for the district to operate on last year’s budget since things like wages, health insurance premiums and retirement contributions for employees inevitably rise every year. The cuts would impact sports, math support, music and the drug/alcohol awareness program, among other things. 

This new, third budget proposal was developed by Nadeau in July, with fewer cuts that are mostly administrative or not central to student programs.

“The logic was administrative austerity, removing some ancillary support and protecting student programs,” Nadeau said. “As I went, the number got more to where I thought people might be willing to say yes to, and that would support education in the way that we would like.”

Hopkinton School Board members have been active in trying to push this budget with voters, hosting Q&A sessions on Zoom and in-person in the hopes of allaying concerns before voting day. Nadeau and Norm Goupil hosted a socially distanced morning coffee session at the gazebo in Contoocook, and Goupil and Seth Aframe met with voters at the Hopkinton Transfer Station. Andrea Folsom and Jim O’Brien host weekly office hours on alternating Tuesdays and Wednesdays via Zoom.

The lack of a determined budget is impacting Hopkinton’s back-to-school plans, as the district needs to plan for extra measures specifically related to COVID-19. Hopkinton is operating fully in-person for pre-K, and using a hybrid model for kids in kindergarten through third grade. Fourth graders and above will be doing remote learning.

“Some schools that are bigger or have more money are going to be able to do more, they’re going to be able to put in more plexiglass, or put in more things,” said Folsom during a back-to-school Q&A meeting Tuesday. “We are going to have to go off of more than a hope and a prayer. We are going to have to go off a budget where we have the money to safely send students back into the classrooms.”

Hopkinton is using $46,000 from CARES Act funds and $40,000 from last year’s end-of-year reserve funds to pay for COVID-related expenses.

The district also broke ground this week on a $10 million project to renovate Maple Street School and Hopkinton Middle High School, and add an addition to Harold Martin Elementary School. The budget for that project was passed in a bond vote in March 2019.

The voting will happen via drive-through and walk-in at Hopkinton Middle High School Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. For drive-through voting, cars will enter school grounds via Park Avenue and volunteers will direct the cars into three and then four lines based on the first letter  of the voter’s last name. 

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