School budget withstands attempted reductions


January 12, 2011
Much like the town budget, not a single cut was made to the school budget last Thursday during the school district's final meeting with the Budget Committee.

At a previous meeting, committee members had agreed to cut $29,500 from the proposed school budget, freezing all administrative head pay and eliminating School Board member stipends, resulting in a $24,274,607 budget.

Out of principle and an opinion that the School District budget still appears too high, Budget Committee member Skip Murphy made numerous motions to cut various items in the budget.

Items included coach's stipends across the board for a total of $119,603 and a cut of $41,106 in student stipends, for club advisors, coordinators, and programmers.

Committee member Terry Stewart agreed with making more cuts to the school budget rather than the town budget in argument that the town had a zero percent level funded budget, and the school was 3.5 percent over budget, but School Board representative Paul Blandford disagreed.

Blandford claimed that the operation of the town and the school district were two different entities, and that school representatives worked just as hard on their budgets. He also did not agree with the idea of taking funding away from those who give extra hours after school for causes such as sports and organizations.

"We support the students in school and outside of school. We feel that extracurricular activities are a very important piece," said Blandford.

These motions to cut stipends from sports and extracurricular activities failed, but only by two and three votes.

Murphy went on to propose merit wage cuts for non union members of the school for a total of $211,977 and $51,735 in cuts for union members.

School District Superintendent of Business Scott Isabelle said that the schools could not contractually rid of 3 percent merit pay increases, and that they may face some legalities or be forced to rid of positions in lieu of reducing pay.

Isabelle added that many of the union members who receive 2 percent merit pay increases are also the employees just getting by.

"We are talking about the lowest paid staff members, yet they are still vital. This group of people is hurting as well," said Isabelle, suggesting that the taxpayers are not alone in their woes, and that many school employees are among them.

Proposed merit wage cuts also failed, along with Murphy's motion to cut $12,500 from advertising, and his motion to cut $125,946 from the superintendent's office, a motion similar to one already hashed out at prior meetings.

Isabelle noted that advertising costs would be needed for legal purposes such as posting school district public hearings and deliberative sessions, for bids, and to advertise vacant positions.

Murphy had planned other motions to amend the proposed school budget, but after his first handful of items failed, he decided not to continue on.

Just prior to adjournment Blandford handed out a letter addressed by School Board Chair Kurt Webber, speaking out to Budget Committee Chair Dick Hickok concerning a recent visit from a committee member.

In the letter Webber stated that committee member Sue Greene visited Superintendent Paul DeMinico earlier in the week, concerned over public comments at the prior Budget Committee meeting.

Greene described comments by resident Joe Wernig and high school guidance counselor Deb Laliberte to be "inappropriate," and while she said DeMinico had no control over Wernig, he did have control over Laliberte as a school employee, who asked committee members to "keep their personal baggage at the door" when making important decisions.

Greene then went on to ask for an outline and the importance of Laliberte's position within the school during her visit with DeMinico.

Webber expressed concern over this conversation and said it "disturbed" him to think that Greene did not believe Laliberte had a right as a resident of Gilford to free speech as stated in the first amendment, and secondly, that Greene may be looking for ways to cut funding for her position, or retaliate against her comments at the prior meeting.

While Greene herself did not address this matter last Thursday night, the letter prompted a discussion about the committee members' rights to free speech, though Hickok said he felt this was not an issue to discuss at a budget meeting.

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