February 03, 2021BRISTOL – Voters from the seven towns in the Newfound Area School District met for their First Deliberative Session last Saturday, where they were initially presented with a proposed operating budget of $24,585,245 for the 2021-22 school year. That proposal was down $640,793 from the 2020-21 budget.
Among the decreases recommended by the committee last week for the high school was $30,202 for all JV sports, $29, 7248 for the elimination of an In School Suspension position, and $49,891 for the removal of a position for a Drug and Alcohol Counselor.
Freshman Broderick Edwards of Hebron was among many students permitted to speak about the cuts. Edwards took exception to the number of reductions in programs and voiced his concern for students who need drug and alcohol counseling, especially in light of the ongoing issues in society.
"Who is going to help us with that? You should vote for the well-being of the high schools," he said.
Nick of New Hampton, an NRHS alumnus, echoed his sentiments, stating that since he graduated, he has learned of 20-30 former students who have died from substance abuse.
"You cut all these things and then what," he asked.
Among several other cuts from the Budget Committee was $72,959 for the removal of all Newfound Memorial Middle School sports, an estimated $168,174 for the removal of two teaching positions from the school as well as $68,454 for a music teacher position.
Again, high school senior Autumn Braley of Alexandria approached the microphone to explain how important music and sports can be in a student's life. She said those activities are not only an outlet for many students, but in some cases, they are the reason they come to school.
"This is a safe place. They have a team, they have people who care," she said. "If you take that away you're taking away a lot of hope for some."
She said if it weren't for her introduction to music in middle school, she would not have found her passion in life as she now looks forward to a future career in music therapy.
Stressing her belief in the importance of the arts and athletics, Braley added, "I've never met a person who said they wished they hadn't played sports or been in the band in high school. What kind of future are you going to see if you don't invest in your children's future?"
Adults met each student's remarks with rounds of applause, and many expressed concerns about children turning to bad behavior with nothing positive to fill their time.
Some senior residents, however, were also concerned about the rise in taxes that they said is threatening to force them from their homes.
"You're asking people to pay more when they're going to the food bank," one woman said.
A year without sports, she felt, would do children no harm.
At the elementary school level, other proposed decreases from the committee included eliminating the Danbury Elementary School Principal position (a net savings of $93,960), doing away with elementary instrumental programs and removing one paraprofessional position from Bridgewater-Hebron Village School. Decreases were also proposed for all library books, field trips, technology as well as a total of $476,545 for district facilities.
Throughout the meeting, two dozen people in all approached the microphone to voice their support or argue against Alper's amendment to the budget.
Budget Committee member John Sellers had another idea, though.
"Just vote for the ($25,226,038) default budget," he said.
When Alexandria's School Board Representative, Sue Cheney, had her turn to speak, however, she cautioned that voting against the budget in hopes of forcing the district to move to the default budget would be taking a really big chance at the polls. Cheney said she had done some research into past budgets for the district and since the 2010-11 school year the budget has only gone up 12.5-percent. That works out to be an annual increase of only 1.1-percent. Putting things in perspective, she felt it only seemed fair to add the $999,181 back into the 2021-22 budget.
After the lengthy debate, the amendment passed by a vote of 237-14 and Article 3 will now be presented as a $25,584,426 operating budget, with $25,226,038 remaining as the default budget should the article fail.
Receiving little comment were articles requesting $350,000 to be added to the Expendable Trust Fund: Building Maintenance (not included in the operating budget) along with a request to increase the amount of money that can be deposited in the Contingency Fund from 2.5-percent to 5-percent, per RSA 198:4-b II. Those monies are to come from the unassigned fund balance at the end of a fiscal year. Changes in the RSA also state the fund may now be used for any unexpected expenses in the district, rather than only for emergencies, as required in the past. A public hearing must be held prior to use though.
Finally, two petitioned articles that will also be on the warrant are, first, one to increase the district's tax cap from two- to three-percent; the second asks to rescind the tax cap altogether. Should both articles pass, the final article to rescind the cap will prevail.
NASD voters will now be asked to cast their final decisions on these articles on Tuesday, March 9, when they head to the polls in their respective towns.