Viewpoint: Steve Chamberlin – Seven reasons to vote no on ConVal article

Per-student town tax payments versus district costs per student.

Per-student town tax payments versus district costs per student. —COURTESY PHOTO

By STEVE CHAMBERLIN

For the Ledger-Transcript

Published: 02-25-2024 9:01 AM

Casting a vote that will change the long-term trajectory of our region requires a foundation of objective, complete data, and a plan subsequently built from that data.

Unfortunately, the Prismatic ConVal reconfiguration study does not provide the necessary foundation upon which to build a plan, and appears to have been executed with a preconceived outcome in mind.

Here are seven reasons.

1. The first direct engagements with the ConVal community was a series of data-collection events hosted in each of the towns from Sept. 19 to Oct. 5, 2023. The token-polling station included the following four options:

-- “Keep ConVal just like it is now, even if it is more expensive than other options and likely means reduced options for middle school and high school students.”

-- “Keep all the elementary schools, but move grades five and six back to them to help fill them up. This could save money, but would likely reduce academic and enrichment options for students in grades five and six.”

-- “Combine only some of the elementary schools in order to provide students with better academic/enrichment options and save some money.”

-- “Combine as many schools as possible (including perhaps the middle schools) in order to provide students with better academic/enrichment options and save money.”

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These questions were biased with a preconceived opinion that the first two options, which both retain schools, have negative correlation to student options, and the last two questions , which combine some elementary schools and/or the middle schools, have positive correlation to student options.

This is in direct conflict with Prismatic’s own stated goal to “provide neutrality” in the process, the commitment by Tatia Prieto, president of Prismatic Services, who said, “Neutrality (objectivity) - Prismatic Does Not Have a Dog in the Fight” and ConVal’s request for proposal, which states, “We are requesting an outside company to evaluate this matter, in order to be as neutral in this evaluation, as can be accomplished.”

2. On the finance side of things, the Prismatic analysis and final report includes nearly exclusive focus on costs. As an example, at the data party, which Prismatic hosted with the ConVal School board on Nov. 15, 2023, Prismatic presented district costs, which are repeatedly discussed, but there is no mention of revenue.

To fully understand financial impacts, revenue must also be considered. The chart accompanying this piece is a summary of tax revenue contribution by town using source data provided by the Office of the Superintendent Schedule of Payment for Fiscal Year 2023-2024 and the “We Are ConVal!” 2024’ report,

What is the financial impact of closing schools in towns that contribute more revenue to the district than average district cost per-student?

What is the financial impact of potential school withdrawal from the district?

What is the financial impact of the requirement for charter schools getting first right of refusal on district buildings for schools potentially closed?

3. It was stated at the 14:45 mark of the Jan. 18 community session that district-wide enrollment will continue to decline. However, this conflicts with the data in the Prismatic report itself, showing that school enrollment reached a bottom of 1,972 students in 2020 and is on a projected upward trend to 2,184 students (approximately 2015 levels) by 2031.

4. In 2019, a petition warrant article was unanimously recommended by the ConVal School Board, and overwhelmingly approved by ConVal district voters 3,111-883. This required the ConVal School Board to perform a comprehensive analysis prior to proposing a plan for school closure.

Further, the ConVal request for proposal for this analysis project specifically references that the ConVal School Board was “charged” to evaluate these impacts from the warrant article as quoted from RFP Section 3:  “The Contoocook Valley Regional School District School Board was charged, by a petition warrant article, to evaluate the consolidation of district schools. The purpose is to evaluate the pros and cons of this request, as well as a recommendation on that request. The evaluation should include the impact that the closing/not closing has on the educational, safety, financial, social, organizational control, community, and the future of the district.”

This planning was not done as part of the Prismatic analysis. Some examples, related to understanding educational and social impacts.

5. What would the specific educational impacts be for students at potentially closed schools – increased or decreased educational performance?

6. The data in the Prismatic report indicates parents generally see better outcomes for their children that need extra support in the smaller versus larger elementary schools. What is the plan to ensure these educational outcomes would be met or increased?

7. The data in the Prismatic report indicates that parents generally see better social experiences for their children in the smaller versus larger schools. What is the plan to ensure these results are met or exceeded?

It’s clear to me that the Prismatic analysis is incomplete, did not meet the expected standard of objectivity and did not satisfy the requirements of the 2019 petition warrant article, which directed that a detailed plan and impact assessment be completed before any requested vote for school consolidation.

I will be voting no on ConVal warrant Article 10 in order to give the Conval School Board, and all of us in the ConVal district, the opportunity to participate in a detailed planning process that can bring everyone to the same side of the table. Only then should voters be asked to cast a ballot that will set the direction for ConVal School District for the next 50 years.

Steve Chamberlin is a Francestown resident.