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2.49% budget increase proposed for WMRSD


December 08, 2010
WHITEFIELD — Interim Superintendent Dr. Harry Fensom made public his proposed hold-the-line, status quo 2011-2012 budget for the White Mountains Regional School late last week.

Dr. Fensom is recommending to the WMRSD school board that the current $18,462,000 budget be increased by $460,142, bringing it to just over $18,922,000, nearing the $19 million mark.

He had intended to present the budget on Monday night but chairman Greg Odell of Dalton cancelled the meeting because of a snowstorm with whiteout conditions.

The postponed meeting was too late for this newspaper's print deadline, and the board's reaction will be in next week's paper.

Factors outside local control account for the increase, Dr. Fensom pointed out in an earlier interview in his office.

Increases in payments to the state retirement system plus net increases in the cost of health, dental, and workers' comp insurance, minus minor reductions in other costs net out to total of increases in benefits of $495,000, nearing the half-million-dollar mark. These increases in the cost of benefits total $35,000 more that the rise in the total school budget, Dr. Fensom said.

Specifically, retirement contributions are up by $224,831; health insurance by $269,287; workers' comp, $5,177; dental, $6,209; FICA, $7,169; and unemployment comp, $109 for a total of $512,782.

Decreases of $17,965 reduce the total, however: life insurance, $7,434;

disability insurance, $7,281;

wellness stipends, $3,000;

and other employee benefits, The total costs of state retirement system payments will be $810,097 in FY11; health insurance, $2,708,128; and workers comp, $65,964.

Although a 2% raise for administrators is included in the proposed budget, any raises for teachers and support staff members — by far the bulk of District employees — will be offered as separate warrant articles, assuming that the school board and union members vote to approve what likely will be one-year contracts.

The proposed budget now includes support staff wages in the 2008-2009 contract that voters approved, Dr. Fensom explained. It also includes teachers' salaries that voters approved in the 2009-2010 contract.

Three positions have been added to the proposed budget: an additional full-time District-wide buildings and grounds maintenance person; a .8 WMRHS combined science and social studies teacher who would teach two courses in each discipline; and a full-year's salary for a central office position added earlier in the year in light of prior financial problems.

Despite small class sizes, no existing teaching positions are on the block.

Dr. Fensom explained that he does not favor establishing any more elementary school combination or blended classes, especially when the District is trying hard to meet state Grade Level Expectations (GLEs) and the academic goals called for under the No Child Left Behind Act. Because of the Jefferson School's low enrollment, it has a single combination class of fifth- and sixth-graders.

"We are looking at meeting separate GLEs at each grade level," Dr. Fensom said.

"If we had a flat zero-increase budget, it would lead to a deterioration of instruction," he warned.

The proposed budget includes a compensation package for a new District superintendent as well as funds for an assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

The budget includes two additional bus runs so that all elementary students can be in their classrooms when the opening bell rings.

Parents who drive their youngsters to school, especially those from out of the District's regular assignment zones, will also be encouraged to be prompt.

The budget also includes the same line item — $87,200 — as last year for 16 slots at the public North Country Charter Academy in Lancaster and Littleton. Students there can finish up their credits needed for graduation throughout the year, so usually more than 16 students from WMRSD are accommodated. The heating oil price of $3.10 a gallon is included in the cost plant operations and maintenance line, although Dr. Fensom pointed out that this is a "guesstimate" at this time since the price of petroleum products rides its own rollercoaster.

The purchase of certain typical "scholar supplies," such as paper and workbooks, as well as computers and technology upgrades, were not purchased in the 2009-2010 school year when a budget freeze was imposed in December 2009, shortly after Dr. Fensom was appointed to the District top slot following his predecessor, Dr. Lou Lafasciano, being placed on paid administrative leave on Nov. 30, 2009. Dr. Lafasciano later resigned on April 6.

When asked about the effect the petitioned warrant article being prepared by former school board member Chris Wheeler that seeks to close the Jefferson School as a money-saving measure, Dr. Fensom replied that it would not be binding, whatever the result.

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