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Committee concludes closing Pittsfield High would save little

  • Pittsfield Middle/High School’s Commencement ceremony was held June 18, 2016. (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor file)

Monitor staff
Published: 3/6/2017 11:45:16 PM

Closing Pittsfield’s high school would likely save the town’s struggling taxpayers a minimal amount of money – if any at all – a select board-appointed committee has concluded.

“I thought it would be considerably more than this,” said Selectman Carl Anderson, the committee’s chairman.

The committee’s conclusions are similar to those Pittsfield school administrators came to last spring when they undertook their own study at the request of the school board. At the time, Pittsfield superintendent John Freeman found that sending Pittsfield high school students to nearby districts would actually cost the district a little more than if they continued educating them in-house.

The select board said the district’s analysis hadn’t been impartial, and – over the school board’s objections – formed their own committee to investigate the matter.

The seven-member committee, which was formed last year, calculated that sending the district’s high school students to Concord High – the district with the cheapest tuition of all of Pittsfield’s neighbors – would cost only $170,265 less than the Pittsfield school district’s proposed budget of $2.23 million for next year . The committee included transportation and special education costs in its estimates, and assumed elementary school students would be moved into the current middle and high school building.

Its members were split about whether or not to recommend Pittsfield change the way it educated high school students, noting that the question of educational quality was left mostly unexplored.

The committee’s report and Anderson also both noted that the committee didn’t have solid information about the grants the districts might lose if it closed the town’s high school, variables that could negate or even reverse the potential savings to taxpayers.

“If, at some point in the future, tuitioning students outside the district were to be reconsidered, it would have to be based on cost or revenue information that this committee does not have at its disposal, or because the town decides that a different path to an adequate education should be pursued,” the committee concluded in its report.

A deeply property-poor town, Pittsfield perennially struggles with one of the state’s highest tax rates. If passed, the district’s proposed budget for next year would result in an estimated $2.97 per $1,000 assessed property value increase on the tax rate – despite the spending plan cutting eight full-time positions. If the budget had kept staffing and programming as is, the tax hike would have neared $5 per $1,000, according to district officials.

“As long as the state is intent on reducing the money that they contribute and our only income is our tax base, I think things are going to continue to get worse,” Anderson said.

The committee’s report can be found online at pittsfieldnh.gov.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)

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