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Board of Directors Questions School Board's $4.9 Million Referendum Request

Town directors had lots of questions about the Board of Education's $4.9 million request for school repairs.

The Board of Education wants to appear on the ballot of a November referendum, but earlier this week the Board of Directors had a chance to question the school board about its request. Although town directors appeared supportive of funding for the school system, some did express reservations about the total price tag. 

"I think the members of the Board of Education know how to stretch a dollar," Mayor Leo Diana said toward the end of Tuesday's special meeting devoted to the issue. "I think it's the consensus of this board tonight that we will all support a question on the ballot for school repairs for a referendum this fall. The question is just how much?"

The school board has said in the past that the $4.9 million represents only "critical repairs" to the system's most dire facilities in order to keep them operational. In January of this year, the district's facility manager back told the Board of Education that Manchester public schools were in "" and would require more than $20 million worth of repairs in the not too distant future. 

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But a separate committee, the School Modernization and Reinvestment Team Revisited (SMARTR), made up of members of the Board of Education, Board of Directors and general public, has been appointed to identify long-term repairs and objectives for the school system.

The school board's $4.9 million referendum request includes funds to replace the roofs at Bowers, Waddell and Verplanck elementary schools, electrical repairs at Manchester High School, parking lot repairs at Arthur H. Illing Middle School and a number of other repairs. But it does not include any money to put towards repairs at Nathan Hale Elementary School. 

The Board of Education because it didn't have funds to fix the school's aging boiler or heat piping systems, both of which were identified as in critical need of repair by the district's facilities manager. In total, Nathan Hale requires an estimated $1.05 million in critical repairs, and just slightly under $2.5 million in total repairs. 

"We've got a facility crisis on our hands, and I'm not interested in pointing a lot of fingers about how we got here," said Town Director Steve Gates at Tuesday's meeting, indicating that he would support the school board's funding request. 

Susan Holmes, a Republican member of the Board of Directors, said she would be willing to support several million in bonding every year or every other year for school projects to ensure that the town's schools were repaired and maintained, which would also avoid the school board having to make an emergency or large funding request on short notice. 

"My philosophy is to try and have something every year," Holmes said. "A steady flow of funds so that you have a steady means to do major repairs." 

But Jay Moran, the Democratic deputy mayor who did not attend Tuesday's meeting, sent a letter stating that he would not support the school board's current request. Moran offered a counter proposal for a $5.4 million bonding request to go to the town's schools, with $2.9 million going to repairs and upgrades at Manchester High School, $900,000 to fix the roofs at the three elementary schools, and the remainder of the $2.5 million going to Nathan Hale to bring the school back online. 

"This is a big number for a taxpayer to afford," Moran said. 

Democrat Lisa P. O'Neill tried to make a motion to vote on the school board's request as part of Tuesday's meeting, but Diana reminded her that it was a special meeting held solely for the purpose of reviewing the request. Diana said the Board of Directors would vote on the issue as part of its next meeting, Tuesday, Aug. 14. 

Any items from the school board that would appear on the ballot of a November referendum would be in addition to an already approved request for . 

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Anne Miller August 10, 2012 at 05:01 PM
I hope that schools like Nathan Hale can be rehabed so that some of the children in the area can walk there and they can feel a neighborhood presence. We do have to keep our schools safe and good shape. Highland Park is getting to look great...They fought for the rehab and got it. I am proud of the way it looks.

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