Concord Charter Commission plans to change school board structure

Over the next few months, the Concord School District Charter Commission will discuss whether the school board should be able to continue to make financial decisions independently, whether it should be expanded to include more members and whether members should receive greater financial compensation and other proposed changes. on the operation of the school board.

At a charter committee meeting earlier this week, members presented various talking points that were suggested by community members as possible changes to the school district’s charter. Concord Superintendent Kathleen Murphy, School Board President Jim Richards and Business Manager Jack Dunn, a former school board member, offered their thoughts on many of the topics.

The Concord School Board is unique in New Hampshire in that it determines its budget independently without a town meeting, citizen ballot, or approval from city government officials. Both Richards and Dunn have argued for maintaining this independence, saying it gives the district the advantage of being able to act quickly to secure good financial deals and save money. Richards said the electricity came in handy when Concord Steam abruptly shut down in 2017, giving the district a short time to approve money for a project to convert schools to natural gas heating.

“Because of the way our charter was written and the way our council was able to work together, we were able to implement a program to heat the schools and be able to finance it, and be able to start this project. in less than a few months, so we never had to worry about the classes running out of heat,” Richards said. “That capacity, that flexibility and that breadth of our charter, I think, was really essential and I would ask you to keep that.”

Dunn added that the power also came in handy in 2010, when the board approved a plan to build three new elementary schools simultaneously, which he said was unlikely to have passed in a community vote based on the economic conditions, but the calendar ended up saving money. .

“Being able to go anytime instead of waiting for a town meeting is powerful,” Dunn said.

Murphy said that in districts where she previously worked, it can be difficult to make the school budget dependent on town meetings, especially because meetings often have low attendance or are “stacked” with a number. disproportionate number of people from special interest groups who influence the direction of the vote.

Another topic of discussion was whether school board members should continue to be elected by district and whether membership should be increased.

When the Charter Commission last met 10 years ago, it changed the composition of the school board from all members to two members from District A (Wards 1, 2, 3, and 4), two members from District B (Wards 5, 6 and 7), two members from District C (Wards 8, 9 and 10) and three members at large. Richards, who represents District A on the school board, says he would like to see the current district system continue because it allows candidates to pay attention to specific issues in their own neighborhood.

“One thing about having smaller districts is that I can knock on a lot of doors and a lot of people can get to know me in the amount of time we’re there,” Richards said. “Their concerns reflected much of the community at large, but I still can’t imagine not knocking on doors and coming face to face with the parents, with the citizens, with the taxpayers of Concord.”

Richards also suggested that candidates for the Concord School Board should disclose their campaign finances, an idea supported by some members of the Charter Commission.

“We had to fill out some financial forms for this committee, and I think that’s a great idea and we should pass those on to school board members as well,” said Commissioner Clint Cogswell, a former board member.

Community member Charlie Russell, speaking during the public comment period, suggested that school board members be paid more for their work than the current rate of $1,000 per year, given the the significant time commitment of board work and participation in several committees. The district charter document currently requires school board members to receive the same amount that city council members receive.

“There are people who would be more likely to show up if they knew they were getting compensation,” Russell said. “Yankee frugality can only go so far. It’s time to consider reasonable compensation for the people who do this work.

Charter Commission members Bill Ardinger, Cogswell, Tom Croteau, Bill Glahn, Betty Hoadley, Nancy Kane, Tracey Lesser, Kate Vaughn and Eric Weiner will decide in meetings over the next few months whether to bring in changes to the Charter document, and will finalize any proposed changes in the spring. The proposed changes will be put to a citywide vote on the next Election Day in November 2022.

At Monday’s meeting, members voted unanimously to hire Linden Jackett, who is currently the assistant district superintendent, to be the Charter Commission’s paid staff member, handle public emails and assist with documentation and research. Jackett said she plans to do work at the Charter Commission in the evenings and on weekends, after her usual work day is over.

“You’ve seen the proliferation of documents that she has made available,” said Betty Hoadley, chair of the Charter Commission. “Because she’s here and she went through the files last time, she knows where the information is.”

The Charter Commission will next meet Dec. 14 at 7:00 p.m., where members plan to hear from outgoing school district clerk Roger Phillips and incoming clerk Patrick Taylor.

Aurora J. William