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Citizens petition school funds back on the warrant


February 10, 2010
NORTHUMBERLAND — The citizens of Northumberland are not pleased with the recent school budget cuts made by the Northumberland Budget Committee and they have the petitioned articles to prove it. The citizens have inserted items on the warrant to put the $202,000 slashed by the committee back into the school appropriation.

"I'm very upset and have thought about possibly moving," said Kimberley Bronson, a paraprofessional at Groveton High School, at the thought of athletics receiving the brunt of the cuts.

Three articles were received by SAU 58 on Feb. 1, signed by 36 individuals to appropriate $202,399 back into the school budget. Over fifty signatures graced a fourth petitioned article turned into the town to dissolve the town's budget committee altogether.

"On a 5.6 million dollar budget, we don't think $200,000 is a very large percentage where (the school board) can't find ways to make that work," said Budget Committee Chair Barry Colbank.

The group of citizens put their requests to reinstate the funding into three parts with specific purposes attached to each. One article asks for the appropriation of $93,222 to restore the school budget to include sports and clubs. The second article asks for $51,881 dollars to be restored to include full time custodians for the school. The third article asks for the restoration of $57,296 to include field trips, after school activities and full time chorus. According to SAU 58 Business Manager Patty Brown cutting the music teacher from full-time to part-time was done before their budget was brought before the budget committee and would cost an extra $28,000 to reinstate.

The town is still in the grip of a half-million dollar shortfall due to unpaid taxes and is legally obligated to pay the school the approved budget whatever it may be.

"How can you commit funds that you don't think are going to come in? If the town goes down then what happens to the school?" said Mr. Colbank.

Mrs. Bronson signed the petitions and believes that the budget committee has simply gone rogue. "I think that they have gone overboard and are not looking at the big picture of what is going to happen in the future, it's just cuts, cuts, cuts," she said.

"I think the budget committee is healthy for the town, I really do," said Mr. Colbank, "could things be done better by all means, but the only way that's going to get done is if people that are really that concerned about the budget participate in the process."

Trustee of the Trust Funds Deborah Weeks was in favor of having a budget committee when it was approved by the town in 2007, but has since changed her mind. "I do feel that the school budget does need to be cut but don't think they (the Budget Committee) are going about it the proper way," said Mrs. Weeks, "and I don't think they are serving the community."

"The story is that we just got our NECAP scores and our kids have shown increase due to the staff we have had," said Dr. Paquette. He also mentioned that the Northumberland School District is among the lowest 13 in the state for teacher salaries. Among the 15, 591 teachers in the state the average salary is $50,128, but the average for Northumberland is $43,703, according to "www.ed.state.nh.us/education/data/staffing.htm" for 2008-2009. "Asking the staff to function on less will drive people out," Dr. Paquette said.

"It's a budget that I hope gets passed by the public, I think it's a do-able budget," said Mr. Colbank.

Northumberland Fire Chief Terry Bedell signed his name to the petitions because he also believes that the committee isn't keeping the town's best interests in mind.

"The way I see it every time they got a budget they had to cut it," Chief Bedell said. "Checking the balance is in the best interest of the town, but keeping the school accredited is also in the best interest of the town."

An item of contention with the committee is that a main reason cited for the cuts was to increase discussion.

"If you want to start conversation then stand up at the town meeting," said Chief Bedell.

Mr. Colbank commented that although he didn't feel it was their main reason he is glad of the effect.

"I am so thrilled to hear people, actually hear people listen to what's going on with the budget 'cause it never happened before," said Mr. Colbank.

Mr. Colbank commented that being the second year of the committee's existence it is still a learning process. He also mentioned that there is currently an open seat on the committee.

"If there's somebody just gung-ho on setting the budget how it should be set, then I urge them to get they're name put on for the budget committee," he said.

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