Bedford high school, tuition proposals fail

BEDFORD – Voters rejected a high school and tuition proposal last night, leaving school board members to ponder what new direction the district should take.

Article three — which called for a new high school and a tuition agreement — fell short (yes, 4,379; no, 3,410) of the required 60 percent margin.

Article four, which only called for a 20-year tuition agreement, could only pass if the high school article passed.

The move means Bedford will not have a 20-year contract with Manchester. Its current three-year pact with the Queen City will expire in 2006 and requires the town to pay Manchester $10.6 million in the next two years.

“We just raised the tax rate $4.64,” School Board Chairman Sue Thomas said after the results of the vote were read.

If Article 3 passed, taxes would have been lower because the 20-year contract would have been approved and capital payments could have been spread out over nine years instead of the two under the current plan.

The debate on the high school proposal ignited following the Feb. 5 deliberative session. An amendment made at that meeting made Article 4 — the separate tuition agreement — contingent on the passage of the new high school, Article 3.

The move incensed members of the Bedford Tax Payers Association and the Bedford Chapter of Citizens for a Sound Economy since the tuition proposal could no longer be considered separately. CSE advocated a no vote on all of the articles and the BTA wanted voters to reject four articles, including Article 3.

“People were angry about what happened at the deliberative session,” said Roy Stewart, president of the BTA.

Stewart said the high school would have passed, along with the tuition contract, if not for the controversial amendment approved in the deliberative session.

Yesterday at the polls, the Bedford Chapter of Citizens for a Sound Economy were sponsoring a petition to have the 20-year tuition proposal considered as the only item at a special election. Petition story

In Manchester, school board Vice Chairman Leslee Stewart, Ward 1, said the proposal’s failure should have little immediate impact on the city school district’s finances.

The Manchester School District’s $140.8 million proposed budget included the assumption Bedford would pass the issue, with $1.2 million from the town slated to go towards debt payments for additions to the city’s three high schools.

Leslee Stewart said the additional money — $9.4 million — over the next two years will go into an account meant to bolster future debt payments on the projects, not towards the budget for the fiscal year that begins in July.

“Although it comes in more quickly we won’t be using that for operating expenses, but rather to service debt over the 10-year period,” Leslee Stewart said.

“If we were to use it up this year then it won’t work to offset Manchester expenses in later years,” she said.

The school board took no position on the vote, Leslee Stewart said. A contingency committee headed by Assistant Superintendent Frank Bass was established about a year ago in case the measure failed.

Brad Cook, the district’s attorney for the tuition agreement, will be at a school board Coordination Committee meeting today to discuss what impact the vote has on Manchester schools. The meeting is at 7:30 p.m. at the School Administration Building, 196 Bridge St.

In other action in Bedford, voters approved Article 5, a $1.8 million deficit appropriation (Yes, 4,481; No, 3,145) and Article 12, the $39.7 million operating budget (Yes, 4,422; No, 3,125).

Article 4, which would take effect “if and only if” Article 3 passed, was approved (Yes, 3,638; No, 3,588).

Staff Reporter Riley Yates contributed to this report.