New playground at Preston school gets Board of Education support, funding

Preston - A plan to build a new playground at the Preston Veterans' Memorial School emerged from the final settlement of the 2013-14 school budget Tuesday, with the Board of Education committing $28,000 in surplus funds toward the $126,861 project.

The plan calls for joint support from the boards of education and finance along with the school's PTO to seek approval from residents at a town meeting for the remaining $98,861 - just below the $100,000 threshold that would require a referendum.

Because the school board's funds would come from the budget that ends June 30, the Board of Finance next must schedule a special meeting prior to June 30 to commit the school board's allocation to a special fund dedicated to the playground. Then the finance board must request a town meeting be scheduled for a vote on the project.

For the past year, a group of parents has been advocating and researching replacing the decayed playground that was removed from the school grounds for safety reasons. The group first proposed a project that exceeded $200,000, and town and school officials asked the group to pare the project down.

Board of Finance Chairman Jerry Grabarek praised the group's work, especially the research done by PTO member Melissa Lennon, and urged the school board to support the project.

Along with the $28,000, the Board of Education agreed to do regular maintenance on the new playground, and to make it open to the public after school and during the summer. Security cameras might need to be added to improve unsupervised monitoring of the playground, Superintendent John Welch said.

After finalizing the 2013-14 budget, the board approved 2 percent raises for Welch and 12 other nonunion school district personnel - including the finance director, transportation coordinator, special education director, technology coordinator, administrative assistants and school nurses.

Board Chairwoman Jan Clancy said money for the raises was included in the salary account in the budget, and the board usually votes at the meeting following referendum approval of the budget on the raises.

Welch said the board did not need to vote on incorporating the $342,090 reduction in the 2014-15 budget approved at the June 10 referendum. About $300,000 of the reduction came with the elimination of the plan to launch full-day preschool and to add kindergarten classroom aides. The remainder was a staff reduction absorbed with the retirement of a middle school math teacher.

The retirement and three shifts of teachers into new positions eliminated the need for a layoff, Welch said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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