Botelle School’s Future Looms Large at Meeting

Both money and Botelle School’s future loomed large in discussion at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.

With few young families able to live in town, enrollment figures have dipped to 56 students and the total cost of education—about 52 percent of the municipal budget—is an annual source of discussion. Botelle’s budget for 2024 is $2.6 million.

Board of Finance chairman Michael Sconyers wrote to school superintendent Mary Beth Iacobelli inquiring about four non-resident faculty members’ children who attend Botelle. Iacobelli explained that Board policy offers teachers a reduced tuition option for their children and explained that it is an incentive to attract and retain quality staff. The parents are responsible for the children’s transportation and any additional services they might require. They pay a $2,000 annual tuition directly to the town. 

“It’s to our advantage to have larger class sizes,” she said, asserting that the students do not add to the budget’s bottom line.

But board member Walter Godlewski said there must be extra costs for books and the like. He quoted a figure of $39,000 per pupil to educate Norfolk students. Iacobelli and board chairman Ann DeCerbo protested, saying that figure was not accurate and stated that the cost-per-pupil figures used by the state and in comparison with other schools is not determined by simply dividing the budget by the number of students. The cost-per-pupil figure is a highly complex calculation involving many factors. 

Iacobelli said the building must be maintained no matter how many students there are, and that most of the budget goes toward salaries and benefits. She termed money paid for student supplies “a very teeny thing,” adding that more students affect the bottom line only when more teachers are needed.

In response to public comments and the financial discussion, Godlewski asked that consolidation be put on the next meeting’s agenda but members of the Board remarked that there has been no indication that neighboring Colebrook is interested in consolidation. It resoundingly rejected the idea in 2015 and has since invested in its own school facility. 

Talk turned to the Economic Development Commission’s “Norfolk Looking Forward” initiative. An extended day program was suggested as being desirable in an EDC survey. Godlewski noted such a program would need an employee with salary and benefits. “Who pays for the program?” he asked.

Iacobelli said it would not be the school and that extended day programming was not widely used by Botelle families in the recent past.

A suggestion for a second added position—a coordinator between the school and the town—was more positively received. DeCerbo explained that a community outreach person could focus on coordinating town and school resources and help market the school to outsiders. “Schools attract people to towns,” she said. “Marketing the school makes sense to me in changing the demographics of the town and attracting more young families.”

Godlewski said that a large segment of the town does not view the school favorably and that “not a cent” should be spent on the position. Jay Whitaker suggested an intern (supervised by a more experienced person) might staff the position at no cost.

Amy Bennett said the school’s negative image is based on a lack of engagement by the public and misinformation. “I think it is to our advantage to show off the great things our kids are doing. If you don’t see it first-hand, you don’t have information. I would love to support that position if we could have it without paying.”

Consolidation and additional discussion about proposing a Community Outreach and Program Development Coordinator position are expected to appear on the Board’s June agenda. 

Newsletter Editor

5/13/24— This article has been edited to reflect the actual percentage of the budget attributable to education; it is 52 percent, not 70 percent.

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