Chatham voters OK tax-neutral spending plan

CHATHAM–School district voters have approved two capital project proposals to repair and upgrade  buildings in the district and to replace the athletic field lights. Using state aid, federal economic stimulus money, capital reserve funds and money not spent on a recently completed capital improvement project, the new $5-million project will have a no impact on district taxes.

The January 12 special referendum results were:

*395 Yes votes and 102 No votes on Proposition #1 for $4.2-million, which will pay for the bulk of the work on the three school buildings and the campus for the elementary and high school

*308 Yes votes and 183 No votes on Proposition #2 for $320,000, to replace the aging, inefficient lights at the athletic field.

The board created two propositions rather than a single measure because some members were concerned that opposition to the lights might affect passage of the essential work called for in Proposition 1. If the propositions had not passed, the board would not have had time to place a new measure before voters until after some of the funding sources were no longer available.

The board held its regular meeting Tuesday night at the high school as voting was taking place in the adjacent Mary E. Dardess Elementary School. School Superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo said that the district’s facilities committee planned to have a long meeting this week to talk about the project. At that point, officials did not know the outcome of the vote.

What board members did learn at the meeting was the findings of study on fundraising conducted at the board’s request by former interim schools Superintendent Lee Bordick. “Some [clubs] raised quite a bit,” said Ms. Nuciforo.

Board member David O’Connor said that the study reports the groups raised and spent $414,000 in the school year. He worried that the same local businesses are being asked to give every year to all the groups, which he said might be “overburdening” them.

Ms. Nuciforo said that she and the district Business Office are looking into the funds in trusts for the district that the district might not be using. And board member Mike Clark pointed out the redundancy in some of the trusts, like an account set up for “orchestra” and one for “strings.”

“It is literally digging through boxes to get that clarity,” Ms. Nuciforo said of dealing with the trust accounts. She plans to have more information for the board this spring and summer.

Ms. Nuciforo also reported on the one-bell system, the new busing program in the district that requires only two bus run times–mornings and afternoons–instead of separate, staggered bus runs for the elementary school and the older students. She said the projected savings with that program is $191,000, though she said that was money the district no longer would have to spend on its busing system.

The superintendent said the district would soon be looking at a bus purchasing plan, adding that a school system “can’t have a one-bell system without more buses,” because the one-bell approach puts a greater strain on the available buses. “There were no new buses purchased last year and it was very tight,” she said.

The district is also starting its annual budget discussions. Ms. Nuciforo said it was harder this year to predict what state aid would be for the next school year. The state has already delayed $293,000 in state aid payments this year. Ms. Nuciforo said the district is monitoring its spending and should come out even with this year’s budget. “We are pretty tightly budgeted for the rest of the year,” she said.

The next board meeting will be Tuesday, January 26, at 6:30 p.m. in the high school library.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

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