After lengthy debates, Pembroke Academy has a few dollars more

  • Ralph Turmelle hands out materials supporting his daughter-in-law Amy Manzelli's bid for the Pembroke School Board before the meeting at Pembroke Academy on Saturday morning, March 7, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Pembroke town moderator Thomas Petit makes the announcement that the meeting was going to be delayed since 75-100 residents were still checking into the school district meeting at Pembroke Academy on Saturday morning. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Meredith (left), Rebecca and Clint Hanson all share and read the school budget materials before the meeting at Pembroke Academy on Saturday morning. Clint Hanson is running again for school board after a nine-year absence. GEOFF FORESTERMonitor staff

  • Pentti Aalto looks over the Pembroke school budget materials before the meeting at Pembroke Academy on Saturday morning. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/7/2020 10:53:57 PM

Residents in Pembroke figured that when they swept aside the candy-cane colored curtains to exit the voting booths, the results were going to be tight.

And they were right – twice – Saturday at the annual school district meeting, and both decisions were a boon for Pembroke Academy and the school district.

First, the budget committee’s suggested operational budget of $26.1 million was amended to $26.7 million by school board representative Andrew Camidge. That ballot vote, with more than $600,000 hanging in the balance, passed by a 148-135 vote.

Next, the town took the final step in opening its wallet a tad wider, voting 146-140 to adopt the new, higher figure.

In fact, the other high-octane issue on the school warrant favored the school as well, as the new collective bargaining agreement and the accompanying teachers’ raises steamrolled to a 193-56 victory that gave the union a new three-year deal.

With discussions in those areas, the meeting drew a clear line between the budget committee, seated in a long row to the right of the moderator, and the school board, seated at their own long table on the other side.

As is the case every year all around the state, property taxes and how they connect to school funding equaled a jammed high school gym, with the meeting beginning 30 minutes late due to the bottlenecked lines waiting at the gym doors.

The focus centered on the tax rate property owners would have to pay to fund education. As it was explained, the budget committee’s recommendation called for a 4.5% tax increase, and that meant an additional $267 on property worth $250,000, if all warrant articles passed.

The school board’s earlier request, which was not on the warrant, called for $26.9 million, a whopping 12.4% increase. Those numbers, Budget Committee vice president Gerry Fleury explained, meant an extra $732 in taxes on property valued at $250,000.

The school board’s amendment Saturday to $26.7 million was slightly lower than it had submmitted, but the small savings seemed to bolster the argument that these numbers were too high and that the budget committee had it right.

“The mission for all of you as voters today is to look at these numbers and consider how much more you can afford to pay,” Fleury told the audience.

The point-counter-point featured the budget committee and its backers resisting yet another increase, especially when some people are nearing the edge of what they can afford. Many seniors are on a fixed income.

The school board and its backers noted that corners should not be cut when it comes to something as important as education.

Camidge played a big role here, saying, “Trust me, none of us enjoy shelling out the money any more than you. But we have a responsibility to our students.”

Dave Doherty, who spent six years on the school board, said he was in favor of the higher budget and noted that the state’s system to fund education is “broken. Property tax doesn’t work anymore. The is a Band Aid for a gushing wound.”

Resident Judy Mitchell said, “I’ve sat here every year and supported the school. I feel like these teachers are underpaid. I don’t have kids in school anymore, they graduated ... but I strongly encourage everybody here to support the school board organization.”

Karyn Ruesing had strong words supporting the school board, saying her daughter, Emmy, who’s intellectually disabled, has benefited from the education provided by Pembroke Academy’s special education program.

“She’s happy, she’s healthy, she’s learning and she’s growing,” Ruesing said, her words growing harder to say, “And that’s what it means to have a budget in place that works for the district. People want to come here.”

Later, raises for teachers, as laid out in the collective bargaining agreement, drew passion on both sides. The three-year total of $1.26 million in raises begins with an increase of $436,954 next school year, or a 1.8% hike.

Before a ballot vote went overwhelmingly the union’s way, residents questioned why raises were based on time served more than merit.

Teachers noted that they’re way behind in the step levels for salaries because of the terms in recent contracts.

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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