Board and committee agree on $24.27 million budget


January 19, 2011
The School Board has agreed to the Budget Committee's suggested $24,274,607 School District budget, $29,500 less than the district originally proposed.

Budget Committee cuts to the proposed School District budget included $5,500 in the elimination of School Board member stipends; for $17,500, the removal of a two percent increase for all administrative salaries; and a $6,500 reduction of funds for Special Education – English for Speakers of Other Languages.

The Budget Committee has recommended the School District budget, although it was noted during a public hearing last Tuesday evening that the numbers are still 3.5 percent over the current budget.

After little comment and disagreement during the public hearing, School Board members reconvened to for their vote. Board members agreed with the Budget Committee on recent alterations made to the budget, although one member placed concerns over losing ESOL funds.

Member Rae Mello-Andrews said she has heard concerns over the $6,500 reduction in the ESOL program. She said she had spoken with one resident of Laconia who mentioned that an influx of immigrants have recently popped up in the area.

"Who says they won't transfer over to Gilford? You could easily have six of these students move in tomorrow," said Mello-Andrews.

Chair of the School Board Kurt Webber said it may be worthwhile to hold off on cutting the $6,500, which may not be needed and could transfer over to the taxpayers at the end of the year.

"I just don't want to short change ourselves," said Mello-Andrews, who added that school districts are required to provide this program by law when needed.

Board member Sue Allen said she shared some of the same concerns but added that there are other options if an influx of students enters the school system. She pointed out that if funding of the ESOL program is needed this year, the district could tap into the capital reserve fund.

Superintendent of Business Scott Isabelle confirmed that the reserve fund could be used as a source of funding if needed.

Member Paul Blandford added that the district's capital reserve has funds saved specifically for special education purposes.

"With the amount of money we are talking about, we should be able to find it somewhere else," said Webber.

After voting in favor of the Budget Committee cuts on the proposed School District budget, school board members also voted in favor of the district's proposed warrant article pertaining to the replacement of three boilers at Gilford Elementary School. The warrant states that the $195,000, if approved, will draw $50,000 from the capital reserve fund and $145,000 in taxes.

Last Tuesday the School District also received a final petitioned warrant article. Board members decided to wait on making a vote, since they felt that the request was last minute, and did not yet understand the "intent" or purpose of the warrant at hand.

In response to a non related issue prompted at the final Budget Committee meeting two weeks ago, committee member Terry Stewart passed out a letter in response to a letter submitted by Webber at the previous meeting.

In Webber's letter addressed to Chair of the Budget Committee Dick Hickok, Webber stated that committee member Sue Greene, during a visit with the superintendent, singled out School District employee Deb Laliberte for her comments as a citizen of Gilford at the previous meeting.

Webber said Greene's concerns and suggestions bordered on an impingement of first amendment rights and free speech, and could possibly create a "hostile" environment at public hearings.

Stewart countered this letter with his own response as a Budget Committee member, yet added that his letter was not on behalf of the committee. He said he believed that Greene was also exercising her first amendment rights, and now felt uncomfortable meeting with school administration himself.

"I have been told that I am welcome to meet with the SAU leaders at any time. Now, I know if I go I might be accused of cutting a position," stated Stewart.

He added that he was also aware public comments cannot be controlled, although he did not agree with comments he claimed to hear from school representatives at the final meeting, and asked them to "look in the mirror" before labeling a committee member's actions.

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