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Newfound School Board warns of "drastic" cuts

January 11, 2011
NEWFOUND—The Newfound School District Budget Committee will hold a public hearing on its proposed FY11/12 operating budget this evening, Thursday, Jan. 13, at 6:30 p.m. in the Newfound Regional High School auditorium.

At the regularly scheduled Newfound School Board meeting on Monday night, school officials warned that if the current Budget Committee recommendations are ultimately enacted, the school board would be forced to make "drastic" cuts to personnel and programs in order to meet the committee's bottom line number.

School District Superintendent Marie Ross told the board that she and Business Manager Daniel Rossner have been instructed by the Budget Committee to come up with some $912,689 in further reductions from the school board's recommended budget in order to meet the Budget Committee's goal of achieving a "level funded" budget that does not increase the amount to be raised from taxation in the upcoming year. The school has already reduced its proposed budget in the course of deliberations by about $600,000 from its initial budget.

The school board's recommended budget for gross appropriations stands at $23,921,114, while the Budget Committee's bottom line figure is $23,008,425.

It was also announced at Monday's meeting that the school board and teacher's union have successfully completed negotiations on a new, one- year collective bargaining agreement that will result in a net savings of $22,275 in the upcoming year.

"That's a first in all my years on the school board," said long-time board member and former chairperson Mary Campbell of Hebron as she extended her hearty congratulations to the negotiating team on a job well done.

The agreement has been ratified by the teacher's union, and was approved by the school board at Monday night's meeting.

Despite this piece of good news, the atmosphere at Monday's meeting was one of concern. This is the third year in a row that the Newfound School District Budget Committee has made the request for level funding, despite ongoing increases in medical and other non-discretionary expenses over which the school district has no control and likely cuts in state aid.

In the previous budget year, the school board acceded to requests to cut more than $1 million from its proposed operating budget to achieve level funding. At Monday night's meeting, however, board members indicated that they will likely not be prepared to endorse the requested level of spending cuts this year.

Describing Monday night's budget cutting discussion as an "exercise" necessitated by the budget committee request, board members were emphatic that they could not recommend the budget committee's bottom line number.

School board member Lou Lieto said that if the board were forced to enact an "Armageddon budget," everything would have to be on the table for the possible cuts, including sports programs.

Board Chair Les Dion agreed with that position, saying that while "nobody was a bigger advocate of sports programs," she would also have to include them in consideration of possible reductions, in keeping with the central academic mission of the school system.

However, newly appointed board member Vincent Migliore said that as far as he was personally concerned, sports were not on the table for possible cuts.

Rossner said that the budget committee had set the bottom line number, but had declined to make any motions about how or where to make the $912,689 in cuts.

Ross said that the Budget Committee had made several suggestions about places possible cuts could be made, including Special Ed, Healthcare, Retirement Contingency lines, reducing class size, eliminating aides, school guidance counselors, and school nurses, but did not go into specific details, preferring to allow school board members to make those decisions.

The school board's recommended budget had eliminated four teacher's positions, but school officials said Monday night that the Budget Committee's budget would necessitate a figure more in line with eight teacher positions being eliminated.

For the purpose of the budget hearing, the school district has prepared a budget that reflects not only these cuts in teachers, but also the elimination of 12 academic interventionists, two school nurses, two guidance counselors, and several contingency items.

However, school officials said that if voters ultimately approved the Budget Committee's bottom line figure for next year's budget, the school board would have to undertake a thorough review before finally determining which cuts would have to be made.

After taking into consideration the feedback received from the informational public hearing this evening, the Budget Committee may make further changes before finalizing the budget number to be presented to the voters at the First Deliberative Session, scheduled for Feb. 11 at 6:30 p.m. in the Newfound Regional High School auditorium. Amendments to the budget warrant article may be offered from the floor of the Deliberative Session before being finalized for the official ballot at the polls in March.

The school board also opened discussions on several other warrant articles for this year's Town Meeting, including two petitioned articles that came in from voters.

The first petitioned warrant article asks the Newfound School District Board to "explore the possibility" of implementing a plan to self-insure the health benefits of some or all of its employees as a cost saving measure.

The second petitioned warrant article asks the voters to adopt "the provisions of RSA 30:14—b to delegate the determination of the default budget to the municipal budget committee [as opposed to school officials]."

Hearings for these and all warrant articles will be scheduled in each of the seven Newfound School District towns of Bristol, Danbury, Hebron, Groton, Bridgewater, Alexandria and New Hampton. While the school board is responsible for scheduling hearings in each town, Ross said she hoped the petitioners would turn out for the hearings to explain their rationale for offering these particular warrant articles.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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