The Guilford Central School (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
The Guilford Central School (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Thursday January 24, 2013

GUILFORD -- Closing Guilford's middle school could save tens of thousands of dollars, current estimates show.

But Guilford Town School Board members this week were still considering two budgets -- one keeping seventh- and eighth-graders at Guilford Central School and the other tuitioning those students to Brattleboro Area Middle School.

Board members are expected to choose between those budgets at a special session scheduled for Sunday afternoon. But a final decision will be in the hands of voters at Town Meeting in March.

"We're going to present a budget," board Vice Chairwoman Alice Revis said. "And the town has their say, ultimately."

The Guilford board has spent months considering the pros and cons of sending seventh- and eighth-graders to Brattleboro.

Some say students would have additional educational and extracurricular opportunities at the larger BAMS facility. Officials also have cited Guilford's declining enrollment: If the middle school is shut, just 21 Guilford students are expected to go to Brattleboro next school year.

But middle-school supporters -- including teachers who made a presentation to the board in October -- have argued that Guilford's small school supports individualized, "place-based" instruction.

Officials initially projected that it might cost more to tuition Guilford's middle-schoolers to BAMS.

But proposed budgets available at the start of a Wednesday board meeting showed that has changed dramatically: Total spending in the BAMS-option budget now is $32,494 less than total expenditures in the base budget that keeps Guilford's middle school intact.

The BAMS-option budget eliminates all of Guilford's secondary teacher salaries, resulting in a savings of $239,948. Other, smaller line items -- from health and dental insurance to textbooks -- also are zeroed out.

The sole secondary-education expense is an estimated $225,750 in tuition payments to BAMS.

The budget numbers, however, still are in flux. Board members made further spending cuts in the BAMS-option budget Wednesday evening.

And officials still are trying to negotiate a tuition-cap agreement with the Brattleboro board. That would place a limit on how much tuition Guilford would have to pay if -- as is projected -- the number of Guilford middle-schoolers going to BAMS eventually increases.

Without such an agreement, Principal John Gagnon said, Guilford's costs "could jump dramatically" over the next several years.

Those uncertainties led the board to schedule a 3 p.m. meeting Sunday at Guilford Central School.

In terms of the budget numbers, "By Sunday afternoon, we'll know exactly where we stand," Gagnon said.

The Sunday session is necessary because school officials must submit all articles for Town Meeting to the town office by Monday.

The school budget will be an article on the town meeting warning and will be subject to a voice vote.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.