Monday January 28, 2013

GUILFORD -- The Guilford School Board met for about an hour Sunday during a special meeting to talk about the future of the middle school.

But the board was unable to come to a decision, and will have to hold one more special meeting Thursday as the deadline approaches for getting the budget done in time for posting the town meeting warning.

The school board has been debating the middle school for months and the board is going to present a budget to the voters at Town Meeting that will include either funding the Guilford Middle School, or a lower budget which would include the funding for sending Guilford’s middle school students to the Brattleboro Area Middle School.

At the meeting Sunday the board talked about the costs to Guilford, and decided it wanted a four-year deal with BAMS before committing to sending its students there next year.

Guilford has 21 students heading into middle school next year, and as the proposed budgets look now, the town would save about $32,494 if those students go to BAMS.

But the number of students is expected to go up over the next four years and the Guilford board wants to make sure its tuition bill would not increase proportionally if the number of Guilford students increases to 30 or 35 or 40.

The board is looking for the four-year deal with the Brattleboro Union High School Board, and then Guilford would potentially join the BUHS district after the fourth year.

Once Guilford is a member of the union district it would not tuition its students and pay the state per-pupil cost, but its taxpayers would instead pay its portion of the overall budget just as Brattleboro residents do now.

Windham Southeast Superintendent Ron Stahley said he will call a special meeting of the BUHS Board to see if the board will be willing to ink a four-year deal with Guilford.

That meeting might happen Wednesday.

Stahley said it makes sense for BAMS to accept the Guilford students because the school would be able to assimilate the students without having to hire extra staff, while at the same time BAMS would get the additional revenue.

The Guilford School Board called the special meeting for Sunday because the members originally thought they would have to have their budget done by Monday in order to give the town clerk time to post the warning before the state-appointed deadline.

At the meeting Sunday the board found out that its absolute last day to approve a budget is actually Feb. 3.

After the meeting Guilford Central School Principal John Gagnon said the board will have to make a decision this week depending on what happens at the special BUHS School Board meeting.

Ultimately it will be up to the town meeting voters, who will be able to adjust the budget from the floor if they are not happy with the final option that the board chooses.

Even though the voters can adjust the budget at town meeting, they can not direct the board on how to spend that money, though the board has indicated that it would respect the wishes of the town meeting body.

"It’s definitely the eleventh hour," Gagnon said after the meeting. "We’ve got work to do."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or hwtisman@reformer.com. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.