Towns vote to fuse school districts

WILTON – The three school districts in Wilton and Lyndeborough will become one cooperative school district next year for kindergarten through grade 12.

The present cooperative is grades 7-12 only, with separate school districts for each elementary school.

The surprising vote Friday night was 126 yes to 21 no after almost an hour of discussion and explanation. Most officials had privately expressed the opinion that it would be close. A two-thirds vote was required for passage. The discussion was led by School Board member Dion Lewis.

By contrast, the voters approved a $5.9 million operating budget with no debate at all.

The new consolidated district will begin July 1, 2010. Next March at annual meeting, a new board of nine members will be elected and a new single contract with the staffs of the present three schools will have been negotiated in order to be approved at that time.

The new board will have five Wilton members, two Lyndeborough members elected by residents and two Lyndeborough members elected at large, meaning Wilton voters will also vote for them. Attorney Norman Makechnie explained that system as meeting the state requirement for one person, one vote.

Funding for the new consolidated district will be based half on attendance and half on equalized valuation. It’s currently based 100 percent on attendance.

Lyndeborough Budget Committee Chairman Burton Reynolds explained the thinking behind the new formula. Currently – and for the past 25 years, he said – attendance at the cooperative school (grades 7-12) has been about 70 percent Wilton and 30 percent Lyndeborough. It’s currently 68 percent and 32 percent respectively.

A study of the equalized valuation rates over that time shows the same ratio. A 50-50 formula would therefore make little difference in tax rates.

It was noted that the formula could be changed “if Wal-Mart builds a store in Lyndeborough.”

One of the main concerns expressed by voters was moving classes from one school to another, such as a very small Lyndeborough class to Wilton or the sixth grade to the middle school. Such moves would require a vote of the district.

Lewis spoke of the cost savings “in the tens of thousands of dollars,” with less staff at the supervisory level, fewer legal fees with one contract and an added 10 percent state building aid for construction currently being contemplated in both towns.

New construction would be paid for by residents of the town in which it would occur.

In addition, the consolidation will free up more time for the superintendent to “deal with educational issues,” Lewis said.

The voters also approved one-year contracts for the teaching staff, with an estimated added cost of $62,263, and for the support staff at $6,097.

Also approved were contributions to three existing capital reserve funds from unexpended fund balance on June 30:

Building and road maintenance and construction, $35,000.

To cover unexpected special education costs, $25,000.

Technology upgrades, $20,000.

An old right-of-way on a neighboring property, dating to 1926 and not needed by the school, was released.