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Allenstown voters cut nearly $1 million from proposed school budget

Thirty-five voters cut more than $976,000 from the proposed school budget at the Allenstown School District deliberative session yesterday.

The cut, if approved by voters at the polls in March, could mean layoffs of school staff, particularly in arts and physical education, as well as cuts to field trips and other programming.

The school board had already cut $100,000 from the school administrator’s budget before sitting down with the budget committee in December. That group then cut $28,000.

“There’s nothing else left to cut,” said school board Chairman Tom Irzyk.

The new proposed budget that will appear on the ballot March 11 is $8,780,000. The original proposed budget, which the school board and budget committee had recommended, equaled the default budget, $9,756,468.

The majority of the budget committee voted in favor of the cut during an initial 29-28 show-of-hands vote. The official vote was 35-33 in a secret ballot vote, called for by the moderator because the vote was so close. The 68 voters who attended the meeting represent 2.6 percent of registered voters in town.

The new proposed budget is 8.7 percent lower than the current operating budget. The default budget is 1.4 percent higher than the current operating budget.

Irzyk and other members of the school board – and several members of the budget committee – opposed the cut, requested by budget committee member Larry Anderson.

Anderson did not specify what he thought the district should cut to meet the new budget, and did not make any suggestions other than “teachers.”

Irzyk and several budget committee members protested that neither Anderson nor any of the other members had suggested such cut at a meeting in December between the budget committee and the school board.

Budget committee members Deb Carney, Dave Coolidge and Chairman Dave Eaton voted against the cut.

“It’s just too steep and too sudden,” Eaton said. “If he had come up with another number, I might have voted for it.”

“Every year, Larry throws crap at the wall to see what sticks,” Coolidge said.

For his part, Anderson didn’t expect this proposed cut to stick, he said.

“I’m surprised. I didn’t believe it would go through, but I’m happy it did,” he said after the meeting.

Before the vote, budget committee members pointed to a history of the school board returning surplus funds to the taxpayers at the end of the budget year as a sign there is room in the budget to cut.

The average surplus over the past 10 years was less than $300,000, but at the end of the 2011-12 school year, the board returned $997,000.

“That was the biggest mistake. We did the right thing, but they think we can do that every year,” Irzyk said. “That’s only something we can do if someone moves out after we budgeted for special services, and we have to budget based on the needs we know of now.

“This was underhanded and ludicrous,” he said. The board will be advocating that people vote against the proposed budget in March to activate the higher default budget, he said.

Earlier in the day, 103 voters attended the town deliberative session, where the majority authorized adding $4,950 to the library budget.

The funds will mean the library can rejoin a regional consortium of downloadable books, reactivate its membership in a genealogical research program, and apply for matching grant funding for summer programming, said library director Amber Cushing.

The total proposed town budget is $3,682,091, up $129,028 from the current budget, an increase of 3.6 percent.

The town default budget is $3,837,639.

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

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