CHESTER – The Chester school district’s annual meeting was another quick, relatively sparsely attended event. During the proceedings, school board chair Royal Richardson joked that he was not aiming to have a repeat performance of last year’s 37-minute meeting and such did not occur, but by only a couple minutes.
There was almost no discussion on any of the articles from the 63 voters in attendance, with most of the meeting’s 39 minutes taken up with Richardson’s explanation of each of the warrant’s five articles.
Leading into the meeting, there was little that had garnered any discussion among town members, and few were surprised at the brevity of the meeting. Though there are always those who complain about the high cost of the school district through the year, this year’s budget process with the town’s budget committee went relatively smoothly, and both groups approved the same numbers.
The budget was approved at $11,907,747. It’s a figure that shows a 2.36 percent increase at $273,983 over the current year’s figure.
Richardson explained that three items, Pinkerton Academy tuition for regular and special education students and transportation costs represented an upward pressure of $277,115, more than the total increase in the budget proposal. Chester tuitions its high school students to the semi-private Derry school.
The number was offset by flat-lining areas of the budget, making reductions in lines, and cost-saving measures the district has implemented in recent years.
Though when no one came up to speak on the budget, moderator David Scott joked that he also wasn’t looking to beat last year’s record and that this was the people’s chance to address the numbers, none did.
It passed unanimously by voice vote.
After another explanation by Richardson on the next article, the collective bargaining agreement with the Chester Educational Support Association, it also passed unanimously with no discussion. The first year of the estimated increase in that contract totals $13,778, the next year $11,988, and the third and final year $12,137.
The only article that garnered any discussion was one that seeks to take up to $25,000 of surplus and add it to the School Buildings Maintenance Fund.
Resident Rich LeBlanc spoke on the issue, saying the district cost too much money and that it would be nice of the board to return the surplus.
Richardson explained that the board was saving up for a roof replacement in an effort not to have to raise that money in a lump sum from taxpayers in the future.
LeBlanc responded, “The people of Chester have endured this budget for years, the way it’s grown. I’m just seeking some relief.”
LeBlanc argued that the tax burden in the town was getting ridiculous. He said, “I’m on the town board, the selectmen, and we on the town side feel bad coming to ask for money for needed things because of the tax burden the school puts on us.”
The school board let LeBlanc’s comments lie, and after resident Karen Stage asked a couple of questions about the longevity of the roof, the article was moved and nearly unanimously approved.
And with just a nod to the last article, which allows for other business to be raised, the meeting was completed.
Scott noted a group of Cub Scouts with Troop 163, who attended to help earn a citizenship badge, and said, “You guys just watched us spend $11 million just like that.” And he snapped his fingers and the meeting was over.
The meeting then broke into a variety of conversations among the attendees, from the matters just discussed to updating each other on family news.
For a few attendees, that portion lasted at least as long as the business of the meeting did.