by Thomas P. Caldwell
BRISTOL — The Newfound Area School District Budget Committee finalized its recommendations for the 2015-2016 school year following a public hearing on Jan. 9, lending its endorsement to a petitioned warrant article that would bring the middle school football program under the umbrella of Newfound athletics.
The petitioned article calls for the district to provide $15,000 per year to support the feeder program known as the Junior Bears. Until now, the Friends of Newfound Football has funded and operated the program at Newfound Memorial Middle School.
The Friends organization also supports the high school program which, like the Junior Bears, began as an independent athletic program but since has become taxpayer-financed, although the Friends maintain the field.
During the budget committee deliberations, Friends President Lynn Comeau of Hebron clarified that the cost of operating the program is about $8,000 per year but that the $15,000 figure would also provide money for uniforms and helmets that need replacing. She expects actual costs next year to be less than $15,000, providing a surplus that the program could carry forward to reduce future years' spending.
Superintendent Stacy Buckley said that, although the article calls for ongoing payments, it would require a new appropriation each year.
During the sparsely attended public hearing, several supporters spoke of the value of the program to students who might not excel in academics or other sports. Football Coach Andrew Szendre noted that the Division III coaches had chosen Newfound as having the best overall sportsmanship from players, coaches, spectators, and the home climate. The team also has helped with regional events such as the New Hampshire Marathon and raised money for the local food pantry.
Other speakers questioned whether adding another sports program would be prudent when there are academic needs that are not being met. Money for textbooks was cut to meet the district's tax cap and the guidance department has been pared back.
Budget committee member Christen Dolloff of Bristol cited those concerns later, saying she had a hard time supporting the article when she is hearing guidance counselors saying the students need more assistance.
Others, however, said the football program answers some of the problems guidance faces in meeting students' needs. Jeff Bird of Bridgewater gave an impassioned plea for the committee to support the article, saying the program builds a sense of community. He noted that bringing the program into the school district brings another level of safety to the participants, as well, as the district can conduct concussion tests, while the Friends cannot.
Harold "Skip" Reilly of Alexandria made the motion to support the article, saying the program builds confidence and character. When it came to a vote, only John Jenness II of New Hampton voted against supporting the article.
The budget hearing attracted a small audience of 15, most of whom were connected with the schools. Chair Simon Barnett of Danbury reviewed the warrant articles, highlighting the budget impacts of the two-year teacher's contract, and he dispensed with a close review of the proposed budget, instead focusing on changes the Newfound Area School Board had made to the administration's original proposal and the items the budget committee adjusted.
The budget committee had added back $93,000 for replacement of the roof and drainage at the middle school; $10,960 for refurbishment of gymnasium floors; $16,000 for a projection system in the high school auditorium; and $10,000 for the painting of buildings.
The total proposed budget is $21,948,204, an increase of $2,767 from the current-year budget.
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