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School district budget prompts calls for further cuts


February 15, 2012
Voters met for the School District Deliberative Session Wednesday, Feb. 8 for a chance to review and amend all Warrant articles for the 2012 Town Meeting.

Similar to her attempted amendment the previous night on the town budget, resident Barbara Aichinger motioned to reduce, by three percent, the proposed school budget of $24,142,615 presented in Article 2.

School Board Chairman Kurt Webber reminded Aichinger that the school board had no control over about $700,000 in the proposed budget, as it covered items such as health and dental insurance and fuel.

Some parents stepped forward saying that they didn't mind paying because they thought their children receive a good education from Gilford schools, and believed that further budget cuts might reduce some services, such as arts, sports and special needs care.

The amendment ultimately failed, 18 to 141.

Warrant Article 5, which would raise about $75,000 for occupancy light sensors, brought about some discussion, as Kevin Hayes asked about the payback on the investment. Initially, they hoped to see a return in three to four years, but Budget Committee Chairman Dick Hickok said the estimation was very optimistic.

Budget Committee members had previously voted 2-10 not to recommend the light sensors, citing that they would be nice to have, but were not necessary.

"It's a high cost solution for a simple problem," said Budget Committee member Kevin Leandro. "Just turn the switch off."

Aichinger also introduced four petitioned warrant articles, similar to those she had introduced at the Town Deliberative Session. The articles included one to have all non-union employees' contracts be approved by voters, another to have the default budget be determined by the budget committee, a third to implement a zero percent tax cap, and the last to move the election date back from March to May.

While each article brought about discussion, the zero percent tax cap brought about concerns that, if passed, it would have to be repealed if the school district needed additional funds for any reason. According to the school board's legal counsel, the tax cap would prevent the school board from ever increasing the budget from the previous year.

With the notion that heating systems in the high school building may need to be replaced in the near future, school board members said school services would have to be cut to pay for the project unless the article was repealed.

According to Webber, the school board voted unanimously not to recommend any of the petitioned articles.

Aichinger said her goal was to "lower Gilford's tax rate, increase voter participation and improve local government transparency."

The annual School District vote is Tuesday, March 13 at the polls in the Gilford Middle School.

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