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$200,000 cut from school to spark discussion

February 03, 2010
NORTHUMBERLAND — After a long budget meeting last Wednesday, Jan. 7, the committee finally sweated out a $202,000 cut to the biggest entity in Northumberland— their school.

"We want them to understand that we are at a tipping point," said Interim Superintendent Ron Paquette speaking against the committee's action. "After four years of cutting there is very little fat left on the bone and therefore we're going to cut the bone."

According to committee members the changes to the budget took the form of nine different motions ranging from leaving the school budget "as is" to the extreme of cutting it by $300,000.

"I characterized it as a very lively and civil exchange," said committee chair Barry Colbank

Near the end of the strenuous meeting the board was split 4-4 on having the budget cut by either about $100,000 or about $300,000 without a precinct representative present or taking part to break the tie. It was then that the board decided to vote on their midpoint number to lower the proposed operating budget to $5,466,042 by a 5-3 vote.

Committee member Nancy Merrow cited one of her reasons for voting in favor of the cut as a means to drive town participation.

"I think basically we wanted a figure that would generate conversation," she said, "and $202,000 is generating a lot."

Dr. Paquette commented that with just a $100,000 cut the school would likely have to cut field trips, after school programs and possibly co-curriculars. With the current situation, however, he said that the cuts would also be "heading to personnel and programs".

"The citizens need to say that we are willing to spend that money for the school," said Mr. Colbank. "Our mission statement is to take input from department heads on what it takes to provide the services to the town and basically balance it with financial responsibility."

According to the school board, the budget initially proposed to the committee was only a one percent increase from the year before.

The budget committee did comment that they had some basic ideas on how to cut school spending and one of those that stood out was to put the Groveton coaching staff as volunteer positions, potentially saving $63,000.

In the previous work session between the school board and budget committee, on Jan. 20, there was a lively back and forth between the two when committee member Michael Phillips made a motion to cut approximately $266,000 from the budget, which was roughly the amount allocated in the budget to pay for the SAU administrative costs. Mr. Phillips eventually disclosed he was entertaining the idea of indirectly abolishing the SAU through the lack of funds, but the motion was voted down.

Martin Lord Osman
Brewster Academy
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