PETERBOROUGH — Voters in the ConVal Regional School District will decide if they want to consolidate the district’s 11 schools down to five in response to a growing budget and declining enrollment.
School Board Member Stephan Morrissey of Francestown said a combination of factors is forcing the towns of the ConVal district to make hard decisions. The student population is lower than it has been in decades, the state continues to push down costs onto the local districts, and the $45 million district budget continues to grow.
“Fifty million is on the horizon,” Morrissey said.
The district, composed of Peterborough, Antrim, Bennington, Dublin, Francestown, Greenfield, Hancock, Sharon and Temple, has 11 schools in an approximately 250-square-mile area. Under a warrant article approved by the board, the district would start working on a consolidation plan to get down to five schools. Morrissey said no cuts would be made until 2025 if the plan is adopted.
Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders said recent changes to the state adequacy funding formula — along with cuts to the school building fund and other costs — are driving the discussion. Every time the state pushes a cost down, it is the local taxpayers who pick up the bill, she said.
“The pressure on the local economies is not being relieved at all by the state, which is not meeting its obligation to educate children,” Saunders said.
While Morrissey calls the state’s latest adequacy grant funding for schools a “joke,” it is not the only factor. There are many unfunded or poorly funded mandates from the state and federal government that the local districts have to find ways to fund.
“That takes away from the very tools we need for education,” he said.
He said the region’s unaffordability for young families means that the school population will continue to decrease as the population continues to age.
“We used to have more than 1,000 students in the high school, and now that’s around 700,” Morrissey said.
The board initially considered closing at least two elementary schools, or charging fees to towns with small schools in order to keep their schools open. That proposal did not make it onto the coming school meeting warrant.
If the consolidation measure passes, the district will investigate the best way to move forward on that plan, Saunders said.