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School budget untouched, admins asked to forgo raises

January 26, 2011
NORTHUMBERLAND — The Northumberland Budget Committee accepted the School Board's proposed budget but asked the district's administrators to voluntarily give up their raises this year as a show of leadership. The request came at the very end of a two hour budget work session between the Budget and School committees and was not immediately answered by Superintendent Dan Shallow, Elementary School Principal Rosanna Moran, High School Principal Pierre Couture or Special Education Director, Pam MacDonald, who were all present.

The request to the administrators was prompted by the committee's move to deny all town employees a 25 cent per hour raise that had been included in the municipal budget. Citing hard times for the voters with property valuations continuing to shift from industrial to residential property owners, the committee eliminated the raises they had control over, while noting they could not eliminate the negotiated raises for the unionized teachers that will go before the voters. Those raises total $34,000—far less than the more than $100,000 teachers would receive under the Evergreen Clause should the contract not be accepted by the voters. Rosetto took note of the cost savings agreed to by the teachers. "Sounds like they did come to the table with good intentions," he said of the Groveton Teachers Association.

Budget committee chairman Alan Rosetto set the tone for the night, announcing at the start of the meeting that the school budget would not be subject to the same line-by-line scrutiny the town and precinct budgets had faced the prior week. He explained that the committee had asked the school board to come to them with a level funded budget and they had complied by presenting a budget with a $5.7 million proposal, a decrease of one percent from the $5.8 million 2010-11 budget. While it is down from last year's budgeted amount, the proposed school budget including a $34,065 warrant article for negotiated pay increases comes in at close to $34,000 over last year's actual spending.

"Let's not ask how many number two pencils they use," Rosetto said defending his stance on not dissecting the budget line-by-line. "Let's ask if the $33,863 increase is as good as it gets and I think they're going to say 'yes.'"

School Board members Nancy Merrow, who previously served on the Budget Committee gave her take on the situation explaining to the committee that so much of the budget was controlled by state and federal mandates or collective bargaining that there was little room for cost-saving. "It's been an eye-opener," she said.

One full time position and two half-time positions were cut from next year's staffing. Those cuts were made necessary through a combination of enrollment and budget constraints, according to SAU 58 Business Manager Patty Brown.

Committee members did ask questions of Shallow about specific lines in the budget, many of which he noted were contractual obligations or shifts due to improvements in accounting practices. While no changes were made and the board unanimously accepted the budget at the end of the work session, members decried the items that they believed should, but cannot be controlled by the taxpayers. Committee member Jack Barnard took great exception to the insurance buyout, calling it "morally wrong." He said that while he recognized that it does in fact save money, he felt that if an employee has health insurance from a spouse the district should not have to pay them not to use the district's insurance plan.

Another hot topic was the Evergreen Clause, which Shallow reported appears to have enough votes in Concord to be repealed. Shallow explained that the repeal, as written, would be phased in, leaving any contract negotiated while Evergreen is still in effect retaining the provision until a new contract was negotiated. The GTA has negotiated a two-year contract that will go before the voters on the warrant with the first year's increase at $34,065 and the second year increase of $47,656. If voters do not approve the agreement raises in the upcoming year alone would top $100,000.

Phillips questioned whether the savings would hold up two years from now. "They negotiated in good faith," Shallow said. "There no reason to believe they wouldn't (then)."

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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