Souhegan facing security issues; group to visit

AMHERST – The school board is not asking for extra money for security cameras in its proposed operating budget for Souhegan High School, but security turned out to be a major focus of the school district’s Feb. 5 Deliberative Session.

After board member David Chen complained that the board should have included money for cameras in the budget, Superintendent Adam Steel told the gathering that the board has decided to engage Safe Havens International, and the nonprofit campus safety organization is coming to the school next week.

The board has the option, he said, to spend its budget surplus on any improvements that Safe Havens and the school’s community council recommends. An amendment from Chen to add $150,000 to the operating budget for security upgrades failed.

Several people from the audience spoke in favor of security cameras, while finance committee member Ellen Grudzien said they give a false sense of security and the money would be better spent on training staff.

The community council, a 47-member group, has long opposed cameras, and Rick Katzenberg, who is part of the council’s security committee, said it is “making great strides” in identifying weak links in school security and will offer recommendations in May.

May also is when the school board is expected to make a decision on cameras and other security issues.

And although interior cameras for the Amherst-Mont Vernon school has been a controversial issue here for years, “it’s not just cameras,” the superintendent said.

Budget down

Early in the nearly three-hour meeting, on a motion by School Board Chairman Howard Brown, voters reduced the proposed $17.8 million operating budget by $13,500, the amount needed to buy decking for the football field that is usually rented for graduation.

Brown said the board is confident there is enough money in this year’s budget for the purchase.

Even before that reduction, the budget was 2 percent lower than the current spending plan, and if in March, voters reject the proposal, the default budget is lower, by less than 1 percent.

The reduction is attributed to savings resulting from staff reductions, the removal of several buses and other changes.

Under a default budget, Brown said, the school would probably not buy a copier replacement, $15,000 worth of security equipment and would not pay non-negotiated salary increases.

The advisory finance committee supports the budget 7-0, but the school board is split 5-2.

Dwayne Purvis gave a minority report saying staffing is not yet in line with enrollment declines and David Chen called declining enrollment “a death knell” and said Souhegan must work harder to become a destination school by getting its math scores up.

“Somehow we can’t keep (the momentum)” of the high math scores earned by Amherst Middle School students, he said.

Cost items related to an agreement with professional and support staff, in Article 3, and $150,000 for architectural and engineering fees for major upgrades to the school, in Article 4, were passed onto the Souhegan ballot without much discussion from the audience.

Chen changed his vote on both articles, making them a unanimous 6-0 (one board member was absent).

There were 61 voters at the meeting, part of the two-step process that will be finalized on Election Day, March 13.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or