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Budgeter asks selectmen for support prior to big vote

December 22, 2010
Prior to a much anticipated Budget Committee meeting in regards to the fate of the School District's superintendent position, committee member Terry Stewart stood in front of the Board of Selectmen as a resident and asked for their support.

"I am here as a resident of Gilford," said Stewart last Wednesday, the day before the Budget Committee meeting. "I am speaking on the fact that the selectmen have a representative on the Budget Committee."

Stewart predicted that last Thursday night's meeting would inevitably bring a motion to nix $175,000, equal to the superintendent's salary, from Gilford's district wide portion of the school budget.

Stewart said that as far as he knew, School Board members did not have any new superintendent candidates on the table even for an $110,000-$125,000 salary, yet Board of Selectmen Chair Kevin Hayes said he heard the board had a list of qualified candidates in mind.

Stewart said he was "thrown through a loop" by this remark and wanted to clear things with the selectmen representative who sits on the Budget Committee.

"Whether the committee cuts the money or not, it is completely up to the School Board to fund items through the budget," said Stewart. "We are deciding if the money is well spent. To me, if you can find ways to save this $175,000, then I will vote for it."

While it seemed that committee members were targeting the superintendent's salary and position, Stewart explained that the school budget is almost $200,000 above budget, and that committee members are required by law to point to a specific line item to justify making such cuts.

He explained his stance by backing his words up with reports written on the subject of running a school district without a superintendent, and also shared reports on how to manage a district without an SAU.

"We felt this could be done without $175,000 for a superintendent," said Stewart, who then asked that the designated selectmen representative take a look at evidence in his various reports in hand and support the savings.

Now that the current superintendent is retiring, Stewart said he felt this was the right time to save, especially with a strong school district administration in place.

"I don't care what happened 10 years ago. The here and now is the concern," said Stewart.

After hearing Stewart speak, Selectman Gus Benavides, representative to the Budget Committee responded to his speech.

"It is important as a selectman that represents the board on the Budget Committee to represent what the Board of Selectmen as a majority want to do," said Benavides.

He then asked for opinions of his fellow board members who said they were not in favor of nixing the superintendent position, but told Benavides to follow his conscience.

Hayes said that while the board is fiscally conservative, he believes a leader should remain at the top of the school district chain.

Benavides clarified that he was not looking for an opinion on the superintendent position, but strictly looking for answers from a financial standpoint.

"These are two separate issues since the School Board made it clear that they will have a superintendent no matter what," said Benavides. "The issue Thursday night is that it will be a philosophical conversation, but I am (here) for the financial part of the issue."

Hayes answered that this was difficult to do in his opinion, considering he felt both the superintendent's position and the proposed $175,000 on the line were not separate issues.

Both Hayes and Selectman John O'Brien seemed to have the same stance on the matter, and suggested that Benavides vote with his best judgment Thursday.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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