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School Board Finalizes Budget Proposal

By Thomas P. Caldwell

BRISTOL — The loss of Groton’s stabilization grant, which reduced its state adequacy aid to zero, compounded by the limits of the school district’s tax cap, resulted in further cuts to the superintendent’s proposed budget for 2017-2018 and led the Newfound Area School Board to consider alternative ways to preserve both educational programs and the district’s infrastructure.

While the board approved an operating budget of $20,952,614 on Nov. 28, Chair Jeff Levesque of Groton said the net amount for direct student spending is a quarter of a million dollars less than the current-year budget because of other obligations, such as increases in retirement and health insurance spending, as well as the cost items in the two-year teachers’ contract that the board ratified on Nov. 14.

In order to meet the tax cap, Superintendent Stacy Buckley had eliminated most of the building maintenance that had been part of her original proposal, including roof repairs to address leaks at Newfound Regional High School and asbestos abatement and tile replacement at Newfound Memorial Middle School.

The tax cap prevents the school board and budget committee from recommending expenditures that increase the school district tax assessment by more than two percent, but voters at the deliberative session of the annual meeting are not bound by that restriction, and could increase the budget from the floor.

 “I am going to approve this budget, but not recommend it,” Levesque told the board. “I’d really, really, really like to see someone step up at the deliberative session and amend the budget up, because I cannot do that as a board member.”

His observation at the Nov. 14 meeting that the tax cap is going to force the district to consider the consolidation of some of its schools was echoed by other board members on the 28th.

“The alternative is to reduce personnel,” said Vincent Paul Migliore of Bridgewater. “To avoid that, we’ll have to consolidate operations.”

Business Administrator Michael Limanni said the district could amend its tax cap to exempt infrastructure improvements, but Migliore said he doubted such a measure would pass. He pointed out that previous attempts to remove the tax cap had failed.

That led to other suggestions for building maintenance, such as having the towns care for their own buildings. Hebron and Bridgewater formed a village district to build and maintain an elementary school which they lease to the Newfound Area School District, and Levesque said other towns might take a similar approach to keep up maintenance on the other schools. It would be more complicated, however, because, while Bristol, Danbury, and New Hampton have elementary schools in their towns, Alexandria and Groton do not, and send their students to other schools. All feed into the middle and high schools, which are located in Bristol.

Limanni pointed out that other towns might not have the ability to maintain their schools in the same manner as Hebron and Bridgewater, and Buckley noted there are already infrastructure problems because the Bridgewater-Hebron Village School has a different type of security camera, preventing her from monitoring that school as she does the other schools in the district.

That returned the discussion to the possibility of closing a school to consolidate resources.

“I look at this history, and I think the communities have all made it quite clear that they want to keep the schools they have, and, geographically, I think that makes some sense,” said Levesque. “I just really get upset when I look at these numbers and look where we are, without even looking at the future.”

Limanni said he is looking at creative ways to maintain the buildings, such as combining a multi-school improvement plan with an energy savings contract that would amount to a no-interest loan. Buckley also noted that some legislators are working to restore state building aid to school districts.

Jason Robert of Bristol commented, “Being a resident and newly in this position [on the school board], in the past, when there have been talks about cutting buildings, shifting of grades, consolidation of resources. From the public perspective, it has been in reaction to something negative. It has never been looked at as a process: In three years we want to be here; in five years this is what the plan needs to be. I think that the proactive approach to any of these discussions that have been going around tonight would better serve the public if they know what’s coming. I think it’s something that needs to be considered, where we’re going, how might we get there, and explain it to the public.”

Before approving the budget that will go on to the Newfound Area School District Budget Committee for review, Sharon Klapyk of Danbury commented, “I have to say that Stacy did a really good job on deciding what could be cut that wasn’t going to impact the district as much as other things. I can’t find a thing that I would say, cut this and put this back.”

The board’s total recommended operating budget is $20,952,614, with an additional $585,515 food services appropriation and $1,214,455 in federal funds and grants, bringing the total appropriation to $22,752,584. There will be a separate warrant article to cover the $248,042 in additional cost items for the teacher’s contract.

The default budget would be $21,384,382 which, with food services and federal funds, would total $23,184,352.

30 November 2016

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