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Preliminary school budget down slightly

October 28, 2009
Over two months ago, the School Board began hacking away at their new budget proposal, which in its preliminary stages is 0.05 percent less than last year's budget and saves the district nearly $13,000.

The budget will stand at $22,379,198 until a few decisions are made.

Superintendent Paul DeMinico said the board has faced some "good and bad luck" this year, although he still managed to keep the 2010-2011 budget slightly lower than the 2008-2009 budget, with most line items level-funded.

DeMinico said that enrollment continues to slide and appears to decrease slightly on a yearly basis. Enrollment declined about 1.7 percent this year and saved $1,298 overall. DeMinico predicted that enrollment will decrease next year as well based on previous trends, although he said that Gilford Elementary School came in "stronger than anticipated" this year.

The School Board, along with the town, must face one large financial woe this year with an unexpected 28.5 percent health insurance increase at the guaranteed maximum increase. The percentage won't go higher than this but DeMinico said he was surprised by these "shocking ratings," which now stand at $743,027 in the budget.

DeMinico said he plans to speak with representatives from the health insurance company along with the Town Administrator Scott Dunn and get to the source of the problem, since the average insurance rate increase is usually 5.5 percent.

"I am as shocked as the next person. I think it would be responsible to talk with these people and see why (the increase is so high)," said DeMinico.

DeMinico asked the board to think long and hard about one decision they still had to make on a proposed $30,000 in the budget. He said he added 5 percent to this portion of the budget with the "notion" that he would like to offer another advanced course for students. Although he has not added staff members, there will also be no program or staff reductions.

Options include funding Theories of Knowledge, an Advanced Placement biology course, or a course that focuses on the "middle" student. DeMinico said there was no way to fund all three, but that the board could perhaps decide on two of the three options based on student interest.

DeMinco said he will attempt to reach set goals through the budget including improving student development and professional learning, strengthening communication with parents, and maintaining the quality of each facility.

He said there was a reading specialist at Gilford Middle School last year, since the eighth grade has been somewhat "problematic" in terms of literacy. DeMinico said they had seriously considered adding a new position to hopefully address this problem, but they decided against it.

Some of the major factors in this year's budget include the 28.5 percent health insurance rate which takes up 4 percent of the entire budget. Salary increases are at $238,842, while dental insurance and transportation costs are at about $33,000 each. DeMinico said that substitute custodian wages have also surprisingly spiked, as well as an audit at $22,400.

Some major areas of decrease in the budget include salary related items, with teacher retirement compensation at $259,816 and retirement debt at $228,988, which sheds almost a quarter million off of the budget.

Other decreases include fuel and electricity at $221,445, handicap non-public tuition at $47,000, and SAU office funds at $80,337. Although the SAU office is factored into the current budget, renovation costs will not appear in next year's budget, said DeMinico.

DeMinico said the board must wait until Nov. 15 to receive their final answer on the pending SAU office relocation to the vacant library. Although the School Board agreed to move the office to the vacant library now that their town lease is up, DeMinico said he is still concerned with the financial outcome of the situation.

"What should happen if the (SAU office) issue goes to Supreme Court? I'm not sure exactly what the heirs want, and we won't know until the 15th of November," said DeMinico.

Assistant Superintendent Scott Isabelle said if the heirs don't make an appeal or bring the matter to a higher level, then moving into the vacant library should not present a problem.

Proposals that didn't make their way to the budget include a hot water boiler, an additional staff member at GMS for $68,000, painting the GHS gym ceiling for $32,000, replacing the 8 year-old tractor for $30,000, and a petition warrant article for a lacrosse program at $17,603.

The School Board plans to review some of these proposed items again, and will take them into consideration during the next meeting where they will dig deeper into the budget before presenting a revision to the Budget Committee for a final look.

Martin Lord and Osman
Salmon Press
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