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February 11. 2013 11:24PM

Candia school deliberation peaceful until final item

CANDIA - The Candia School District deliberative session contrasted sharply with the earlier town deliberative session and its controversial use of amendments. Monday's meeting sailed along smoothly until the final warrant article, a petition to shorten kindergarten, received an amendment that its supporters believe subverted its purpose.

The district's proposed operating budget of $8,042,055 was passed to the ballot without discussion, as were the two collective bargaining agreements. The first, between the Candia School Board and the Candia Education Association, calls for three salary and benefit increases over the next three years: a $54,137 increase for 2013-2014, $65,146 for 2014-2015, and $50,513 for 2015-2016.

The second, between the Candia School Board and the Candia Education Support Professionals contains only one salary and benefit increase: $5,772 for 2013-2014.

The final warrant, however, a petition article to reduce kindergarten at the Moore School from a full day to a half-day, was amended to include a qualifier noting that the article was "advisory" and "non-binding."

Judith Szot, a budget committee member who organized the petition, spoke out forcefully against the amendment, arguing that it denied "the citizens' right to petition their government."

"You take away the fundamental right of the people of this town to make the decisions on what happens with their money and in their school," she said. "By putting in that sentence, they are taking away the right of the people to petition their government, and I think that's wrong."

Szot insisted that the legal advice she had received suggested that should the petition pass, it would be binding on the school district. According to the School Board and its legal counsel, however, with or without the amendment the petition could only be advisory, as matters of curriculum rest entirely within the jurisdiction of the school board.

The board also said that the amendment to the question simply communicated to voters the reality of the warrant's nature without changing it, staving off any potential frustration or confusion should it pass and the board choose to continue with full-day kindergarten sessions.

"This is simply adding a level of communication to the community," said board Vice-Chair Nicole LaFlamme. "I understand what you're trying to do, but this doesn't change that."

The amendment passed by a significant margin, and the warrant was subsequently passed to the ballot.

Several voters said the debate was akin to the town's Feb. 2 deliberative session. At that session, similar frustration was expressed when a $100,000 warrant to hire a contractor for the demolition and closure of the town's former incinerator site and dump was reduced by its opponents to $1 through an amendment, initiated by Szot, effectively killing the plan before it could face a full vote at the March 12 town election.

The amendment opened a floodgate of similar amendments, with motions passing which rendered a warrant to define the town clerk's office hours and a warrant to abolish the town's Conversation Commission virtually meaningless. As its usage spread, many voters who supported the amendment to defund the incinerator site plan, including Szot, spoke out against the practice.

The town and school district's ballots will appear before voters at the town election on March 12. It will be held at the Henry W. Moore School, 12 Deerfield Road, with the polls open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

bclogston@newstote.com

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