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Hampstead: Future for Central School uncertain after project defeat

By JASON SCHREIBER
Union Leader Correspondent

March 15. 2018 11:12PM




HAMPSTEAD — School officials will soon begin planning their next step after voters on Tuesday defeated a renovation and expansion proposal for Hampstead Central School for the fourth time.

The $7.4 million project failed to get the 60 percent vote needed for passage with 708 in favor and 672 against the 20-year bond; it needed 828 favorable votes to pass.

“It’s not simply disappointing, but truly unfortunate that it did not pass as it is a cost effective design that would have satisfied all the identified needs for the school and community,” school board Chairman Karen Yasenka said.

The cost of the project has increased over the years, but supporters argue the improvements are needed to address safety and security concerns for students and staff, space deficiencies and other issues.

“The challenges are great and how we deliver education will look very different in the months ahead. Safety and security issues remain a priority. Class size, compromising or eliminating programs, and the repurposing of educational spaces are all under consideration,” Yasenka said.

While this was the fourth proposal, it was a new plan and the first time voters weighed in on the plan.

Yasenka said the proposal had a flexible design to meet today’s needs and would have adjusted to future enrollment and program needs for the next 30 to 40 years.

“Failure to pass it speaks to the short-sightedness on the part of many. It was an opportunity missed for both the school district and the town. The problems are not going away and the cost to address them will continue to increase,” she said.

The school board hasn’t met since Tuesday’s election to discuss the defeat, but Yasenka said it will consider all available options.

Calling the failed proposal a “responsible option,” Superintendent Dr. Earl Metzler said he was disappointed personally and professionally.

“We will continue to explore ways to take care of our needs. Hampstead continues to support public education by passing proposed budgets, allowing capital reserve contributions, supporting union contracts and celebrating academic excellence,” he said.

But voters also sent a message about school spending increases and the impact on taxpayers, particularly the town’s older population.

On the town ballot, voters passed a citizen-petitioned warrant article that called for a freeze on the school portion of the property tax bill for taxpayers over the age of 65. The proposal, which passed 817 to 514, was deemed illegal and unenforceable under state law but remained on the ballot.

Saying there are many residents on fixed incomes, 74-year-old Hampstead resident David Chalk drew up the petitioned article with the goal of putting a stop to any increases in the school tax rate once a taxpayer reached 65.

While it’s unclear what the school board’s next move will be, Yasenka is hopeful some minds will change in the future.

“Frankly, speaking for myself, I believe that it’s going to take a mind shift on the part of many Hampstead residents. Until the time comes that people realize and accept that living in a community with others requires the sharing of resources, including time, talent, energy and finances, to accomplish things for the benefit of the common good…it will not pass,” she said.


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