LONDONDERRY — It was the first time in more than two decades that longtime school district moderator John Michels didn’t open the deliberative session.
Voters and town officials remembered Michels with a moment of silence Monday before the meeting. His death Monday, just hours before the deliberative session, stunned and saddened many in the community.
“He was a great guy, always controlled the meetings extremely well,” school superintendent Nate Greenberg said. “He ran it like a true New Hampshire deliberative session town meeting, always giving everyone a fair hearing. He was a master at it.”
Greenberg said Michels predated him and served for at least 24 years in the moderator’s role.
On a personal note, Greenberg called Michels a friend.
“I always had a wonderful relationship with John,” he said. “He was very easy to get along with and a fine human being.”
Town Councilor Tom Dolan said Michels was also an avid volunteer.
“He was a very dedicated member of the community,” Dolan said. “He was very giving and didn’t seek the spotlight, he just wanted to give.”
Michels also represented Pillsbury Realty Development with regard to the Woodmont project.
His death caught many by surprise, including School Board member John Robinson.
“John was a man who always had the community’s best interests at heart,” Robinson said. “He was involved in both the town and the school side, and we counted on him to understand the process and make the meetings run smoothly. We all trusted him implicitly.”
Prior to the start of the meeting Monday, Bob Sauer was sworn in to serve as moderator.
School security was foremost in voters’ and officials’ minds.
There are 254 doors in the school district and officials want to make sure they are all safe and secure.
A plan to spend $170,000 to update school security was among a list of warrant articles discussed.
Just 93 of the town’s more than 15,900 registered voters turned out for the meeting. Those voters also heard details about a proposed $66 million budget for next year.
The security plan article, if approved at the polls, would enhance the district’s school security by adding a district-wide card access system, training, and door monitoring/sensor systems.
“This comes after the Newtown (tragedy), but not directly in response to it,” Robinson said. “The idea is to make it harder to get into the schools and make sure people coming in are known to us.”
Two other articles were amended to offset the security plan’s cost.
One article calling for $200,000 for a capital reserve fund for furniture, desks, chairs and technology equipment was amended to $100,000. Another $50,000 article to establish a benefits trust fund to help maintain a health insurance fund for employees and retired employees was killed.
The $66 million operating budget is heading to the ballot after little discussion.
Greenberg said this budget was a challenge as the state is sending less money to Londonderry for adequacy aid. The town also will have to shoulder higher costs for health-care and retirement.
Enrollment numbers in the district’s schools are falling, Greenberg said, adding to the budget challenge and higher costs.
“This path is very similar to other school districts in the state, mostly in Southern New Hampshire,” he said. “Obviously, this is impacting us.”
Greenberg said the district could add up to 60 students from other districts to help offset budget increases.
Another article for $4.5 million, if approved in March, would pay for the renovation and construction to buildings in the district when needed.
School Board Chairman John LaFerriere said the district was falling behind on maintenance projects due to lack of funding. The money would help keep the district’s infrastructure secure. Some projects on the priority list include paving, roofing and HVAC renovations and upgrades.
Spending the money now is best, he said, when interest and bonds rates are low.
A petitioned article to raise $8,500 to finance an official high school varsity ski team was moved to the March ballot.
Londonderry High School senior Tristan Evarts said the ski team is now a club. Approval of the article would grant the team official high school varsity status. The money would help support coaching and fees for competitions.
“This funding for the town would be really important for us,” he said. “We all want the team to do as good as we can.”