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Proposed Merrimack Valley School District budget up 2 percent

Merrimack Valley School District taxpayers could have to raise as much as 10 percent more in taxes next year to fund the budget proposed by the school board at last night’s public hearing.

Any surplus from this year, which could be as much as $1 million, will go toward lowering that increase, but several other proposals could increase it further.

The proposed budget, $37.1 million, is $735,261 higher than the current year’s budget, an increase of 2 percent.

However, local revenue from tuition and state funding are down almost $140,000, and the budget presented last night did not account for any surplus that might be available at the end of the current fiscal year in June. The board aims to have $1 million in fund balance at the end of every fiscal year to use as surplus, and is on track for that now, but it is too early to know what could be left in June, said Finance Committee Chairman Troy Cowan.

The budget also didn’t account for a proposed three-year contract with district teachers, which would add almost $578,000, or a proposal to expand kindergarten to a full-day program, which would add slightly more than $194,000.

Roughly 70 residents of the district, which includes Boscawen, Loudon, Penacook, Salisbury and Webster, attended the hearing on the warrant last night.

Sentiment on all proposals was mixed.

Several residents criticized the district for not requiring teachers to pay a deductible for their health insurance, while others said comprehensive benefit packages attract better candidates for open positions.

“It just seems like we could have one year of a straight-line budget,” said Loudon resident Steve Jackson, calling for decreases in the budget in order to accommodate the increase in health insurance costs that is driving most of the $735,000 increase.

“Nobody wants their taxes to increase,” said Sarah Chalsma of Webster. “Everybody’s looking to cut, and we do that in our personal lives as well. . . . But there are a few things I don’t skimp on, and that’s education and safety. We are here to ensure that our children get a good education, the best education that we can have.”

With other forces driving the costs to taxpayers up, however, “I just don’t think this is the year I can support full-day kindergarten, even knowing the importance of it,” said Ellen Kontinos-Cilley of Webster.

She and several other residents voiced support for parents having to pay tuition for part of the cost of kindergarten, an option that was dismissed last fall by a task force that studied the costs and benefits of expanding the half-day kindergarten program, out of concern that parents who couldn’t afford to pay wouldn’t use the program.

“We decided that if even one child was going to be left out of that equation, we weren’t going there,” said task force member Donna Siocca of Penacook. “We want every child in Merrimack Valley to have the same experience and same success of every other child. We weren’t willing to risk one child.”

“If you have a desire, if something is a priority to you, you will do everything you can to make sure your child has a good education, whether the money is there or not,” said Martha Vendt of Boscawen.

The school board will review three petitions for articles submitted last night before finalizing the warrant that will go before voters at the March 6 district meeting.

The petitions, submitted by Bill Murphy of Boscawen, seek to gauge the public’s sentiment on holding the district meeting on a Saturday morning as opposed to a weekday night; instituting a three-term limit for school board members; and investigating privatizing school transportation.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322, spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

Legacy Comments4

District taxpayers need to know that the REAL increase to the taxpayer proposed by the school board is almost 11%. Don't be fooled by their suggested 2% increase. District taxpayers can only stop these extremely steep increases with their vote. Every citizen that is registered to vote in any of the districts five towns is automatically registered to vote at the annual school meeting, March 6, 2014 at 6:00 pm at the Merrimack Valley High School. GO VOTE!!!!!!!

The actual proposed increase to taxpayers is exactly 10.44%. Mighty high increase!

I went to the meeting last night and it was very interesting. The budget presented is not sustainable, and a huge part of the increase is benefits and salary increases. I don't believe that the people responsible for the negotiations think of the taxpayer. In one breath it is told how great the school system is and how we need to support and get the best of teachers with a good salary and benefits package, and then in the budget more money is wanted to hire a "math specialist" as the students test scores are not as high as need to be. It appears to me that some of the teachers are not teaching if the students math test scores are not good!!! The end result is that 8,000 voters need to go to the annual school meeting on March 6 and vote out the budget and request that the school board start over again. There is nothing wrong with that a number of school districts in NH vote down school budgets, salary increases. We can do it too.

District taxpayers cannot afford a 10% tax increase for the school department. If the school board cannot make reasonable adjustments and cannot prioritize the budget items, then I would encourage district taxpayers to reject the entire budget until the board can present us with a more responsible one. Who among us has received a 10% pay raise recently? Rejecting full day kindergarten is a good place to start. Property owners cannot afford these burdensome tax increases.

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