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Democracy in action: Secret ballots, a budget reduction and a found iPad at Merrimack Valley

  • Voters enter Merrimack Valley High School auditorium before the school district’s annual meeting Thursday. Elodie Reed/ Monitor staff

  • Peter and Kathy Pitmon of Loudon wait for the Merrimack Valley School District annual meeting to start Thursday. Elodie Reed—Monitor staff

  • Penacook Elementary Schoo music teacher Elaine Hashem prepares her students to sing the Star Spangled Banner at the Merrimack Valley School District annual meeting Thursday. Elodie Reed—Monitor staff

  • Merrimack Valley School Board Chair Mark Hutchins conducts the first portion of the annual meeting Thursday. Elodie Reed/ Monitor staff

  • Ten-month-old Charlie Wheeler listens to Merrimack Valley School District annual meeting proceedings in the arms of his mom, Lindsay. Both are from Webster. Elodie Reed—Monitor staff

  • Merrimack Valley School District voters wait in line to submit a secret ballot on a warrant article about forming a budget committee Thursday. Elodie Reed—Monitor staff

  • Penacook Elementary School students file into the Merrimack Valley High School auditorium before singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” on Thursday night. Elodie Reed / Monitor staff

  • Salisbury resident and at-large school board member candidate Louise Andrus recites the Pledge of Allegiance before the Merrimack Valley School Board meeting Thursday. Elodie Reed—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Thursday, March 09, 2017

Merrimack Valley School District’s meeting began with Loudon resident Suzanne Rude getting back her misplaced iPad. This was one of the only potential money-saving measures that voters approved Thursday night.

The iPad incident was also anomalous given that Curtiss Rude made it a public affair, shouting “my wife!” and identifying her as the owner to the room. Many of the other actions during the annual meeting were done by secret ballot, extending the meeting over three hours.

A petitioned proposal for a budget committee, another petition to move annual meeting to a Saturday, and a suggested operating budget reduction of $399,111.66 were all requested to be voted by secret ballot. None of the measures passed.

The one successful cost reduction – decided by hand-raising – was an amendment to remove $430,000 from the operating budget. The cut was due to health insurance savings in a new staff collective bargaining agreement voters approved, which will increase Merrimack Valley Education Association salaries and benefits by $262,186 in 2018-19 and $257,484 in 2019-20.

After voters approved an additional $40,000 amendment to help pay for a new baseball batting cage facility, the operating budget was finalized at $39,911,166, a 0.94 percent increase over last year.

Voters arrived at that number after much debate between two competing interests: supporting children by paying teachers versus reducing the burden for senior taxpayers living on fixed incomes.

Salisbury resident Louise Andrus said she thought the school district budgeting could be done more effectively given that in Loudon, almost two dozen children are homeschooled.

“That’s 7 percent of kids in Loudon,” she said. “Doesn’t anyone ask why?”

In the end, however, voters showed their approval for the school board on all of their articles. Andrus, whose two petitions failed and who lost a contested race to Loudon resident Kristen Byron, wasn’t phased that her ideas – including her request for one of the secret ballot votes – were unpopular.

“This is a democracy,” she said.