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Allenstown residents, school board campaign against budget that would jeopardize sports, arts

  • Jody Moore climbs a snowbank while she and her husband Craig, post a few signs around Allenstown neighborhoods on Saturday afternoon, March 1, 2014 calling attention to the proposed Allenstown school budget cuts of $1 million dollars.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Jody Moore climbs a snowbank while she and her husband Craig, post a few signs around Allenstown neighborhoods on Saturday afternoon, March 1, 2014 calling attention to the proposed Allenstown school budget cuts of $1 million dollars.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Kim Foss, a parent and kindergarten teacher at Allenstown Elementary School, reads over some of the literature that was distributed at a organizational meeting at Dreamsicle Studio in Allenstown on Wednesday night, February 26, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Kim Foss, a parent and kindergarten teacher at Allenstown Elementary School, reads over some of the literature that was distributed at a organizational meeting at Dreamsicle Studio in Allenstown on Wednesday night, February 26, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Emily Gifford, left, and Joanne Stottlar look at a map of places they can go to hand out information regarding the Allenstown school budget vote while at a organizational meeting at Dreamsicle Studio in Allenstown on Wednesday night, February 26, 2014. The proposed budget cuts $1 million dollars and many community members including Gifford and Stottlar, a parent and teacher, are trying to rally community members against it. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Emily Gifford, left, and Joanne Stottlar look at a map of places they can go to hand out information regarding the Allenstown school budget vote while at a organizational meeting at Dreamsicle Studio in Allenstown on Wednesday night, February 26, 2014. The proposed budget cuts $1 million dollars and many community members including Gifford and Stottlar, a parent and teacher, are trying to rally community members against it.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Jody Moore climbs a snowbank while she and her husband Craig, post a few signs around Allenstown neighborhoods on Saturday afternoon, March 1, 2014 calling attention to the proposed Allenstown school budget cuts of $1 million dollars.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Kim Foss, a parent and kindergarten teacher at Allenstown Elementary School, reads over some of the literature that was distributed at a organizational meeting at Dreamsicle Studio in Allenstown on Wednesday night, February 26, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Emily Gifford, left, and Joanne Stottlar look at a map of places they can go to hand out information regarding the Allenstown school budget vote while at a organizational meeting at Dreamsicle Studio in Allenstown on Wednesday night, February 26, 2014. The proposed budget cuts $1 million dollars and many community members including Gifford and Stottlar, a parent and teacher, are trying to rally community members against it. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

Jody Moore struggles with the sign. It wobbles and bends as she tries to hammer its wire legs into a snowbank along Main Street in Allenstown.

Instead of the sign sinking, Moore does. A passerby asks whether she needs help getting out of the snow that now reaches her waist.

As a mother of two children in the Allenstown School District, Moore said she needs a helping hand. But what she’s really hoping for is a vote. Moore is among a growing number of parents and teachers who, along with the school board, are asking residents to restore the $1 million that was unexpectedly cut from the budget in the deliberative session a month earlier.

The signs – and the rhetoric – are popping up across Allenstown, a community struggling to balance its need for better education with a demand to cut one of the state’s highest tax rates.

Moore is part of a grassroots get-out-the-vote effort usually reserved for primary and general elections. She helped pay for 60 of the red-and-blue-lettered signs that urge voters to reject the proposed $8.8 million budget for the 2014-15 school year. A “no” vote March 11, would restore the $1 million, and it could salvage the sports, music and language programs that are now sitting on the chopping block.

Moore met with other parents and teachers Wednesday night in Suncook to pass out signs and bumper stickers. The group informally calls itself “Save Our Schools – Save Allenstown.” It consists of a few dozen people ready to get out and knock on doors in the next week to sway voters.

Little warning

The original $9.7 million school budget was cut at the town’s annual deliberative session Feb. 1 when an unexpected motion late in the meeting was approved, 35-33. Since that day, the school board has met to publicly criticize the proposed cuts and offer examples of what would be removed if the proposed 9 percent cut in the operating budget were approved.

“People really don’t know what’s happening,” Moore said of residents she has already spoken to about the upcoming vote.

Larry Anderson, secretary of the town’s budget committee, angered more than a few in town when his amended school budget was passed at the deliberative session. Some of those upset with him include members of his own committee, which met several times with the school board in the months preceding the deliberative session. Anderson did not mention making such a large reduction in school spending, according to minutes from those meetings.

The lack of warning of Anderson’s proposal is frequently cited as a source of anger among those opposed to the cuts. Many of those angered by Anderson’s amendment said it was not a coincidence in how he went about getting the cuts passed.

“This budget amendment was very well thought out by a small number of people,” said Joanne Stottlar, a third-grade teacher in the district. “It was planned for a time when no one would be there to defeat it.”

Most voters who attended the deliberative session had left by the time Anderson made his amendment, thinking the meeting was almost over, said Kris Fowler, the town’s only kindergarten teacher.

“They call up all their cronies,” Fowler said of the group that passed the budget with the $1 million reduction. “They pack the rooms with their people and don’t tell anyone what they are doing and then they surprise everybody.”

Anderson said he came up with the $1 million figure while sitting in the deliberative session that day. He said he was surprised it was passed. There was no plotting or tricks on his part, he said.

“The budget committee isn’t with me,” Anderson said last week. “I was acting as a private citizen.”

The effects

Allenstown School Board Chairman Thomas Irzyk has said the cuts would mean the school district would most likely no longer be in compliance with education mandates, which could result in the additional loss of $500,000 in state funding.

The 400 students at Allenstown Elementary School and Armand R. Dupont Middle School would lose much in the proposed cuts, school board members said. Teachers of art, physical education, music and foreign language would be dismissed. The school resource officer would lose her job. Field trips and sports teams would no longer be in the budget.

And that is just fine with Carol Merrill, one of the town’s budget committee members who voted with Anderson at the deliberative session.

“I think they can give up sports for a while – that’s not education,” Merrill said. “They can do away with field trips for a while – that’s not education.”

Merrill said she is not against children having extras in school. She just thinks the time has come for Allenstown to reduce its tax rate.

“I’m a senior citizen,” Merrill said. “When I see people losing their homes because of taxes, that’s sad. We pay for computers and for this technology stuff, and it’s sad.”

Hard times

Allenstown’s overall property tax rate is consistently one of the highest in the state, according to state revenue department statistics. In 2013, the town ranked eighth-highest in the state with its rate of $31.53 per $1,000 of assessed property value, according to the revenue department. The school district’s portion of that was $16.20, which was about average.

While it’s true the Allenstown tax rate may be harder for some to pay than others, Tax Collector Kathleen Rogers said, no town resident lost a home to unpaid taxes last year.

Anderson said fewer teachers are needed because there are fewer students in the district. He also suggests moving elementary students into the middle school and increasing classroom size up to 30 students per teacher.

Moore and other door-knockers have an additional challenge in getting the proposed budget defeated. When voters enter the private polling booths, they will be presented with a ballot that says the school board approves of the proposed budget.

Town Administrator Shaun Mulholland said that is because state law does not allow a town’s warrant to be altered once it is officially posted – even if changes are made at a deliberative session.

“It only becomes a huge issue when you’ve got huge changes,” Mulholland said. “And these are huge changes.”

Mulholland said he hopes to work with local members of the Legislature to get that law changed, but that won’t help voters in this election. It isn’t fair, he said, which is why he hopes the law is altered.

About half of Allenstown’s approximately 5,000 residents are registered to vote, said Kris Fowler, a supervisor of the town’s checklist. Last year, there were a little more than 600 residents who voted in town elections, he said.

A parent of four children in the Allenstown district, Brian Godin is hoping that number will rise considerably. He’s been among those organizing volunteers to ensure a strong turnout.

“I think we will win this,” Godin said to the group Wednesday. “Everybody has heart, especially for the children.”

(Daira Cline can be reached at 369-3306 or dcline@cmonitor.com.)

Legacy Comments19

HOLD ON EVERYONE!!!! All I hear is talk about sports, music and art. This proposed budget cut would include cuts to actual ACADEMICS as well. In particular Health teacher, French teacher, Reading Specialist, Math interventionist, Laptops, Books and school supplies. My own children use some of these services now. How can we as parents or just citizens of the Untied States of America say we will not provide children help with READING and MATH. That is Crazy! Come on Mrs. Merrill that technology stuff really. They use that technology stuff to learn and test on. When they are old enough to get to high school and hopefully college and eventually in the work force they will need to know how to use this technology stuff! Again Mrs. Merrill I have a question for you. Did you go to public schools? Because if you did all the good citizens and home owners of that town paid for your future and education. Now that you are the senior citizen and homeowner you want to take away what my children need for their own future and education to save some money. You are only see the very immediate future and the depths of your own pockets here. I have news for you and everyone else in support of this article. This may save you a small amount of money now but in the future it will cost you thousand if not more. Do you ever plan on selling your home here in Allenstown? If this article passes you better believe you will have a harder time selling your home or even getting the value you expected out of it. Also, once we lose state funding because we will not meet state requirements with this article we will have to make up another $500,000 that we currently get from the state. That will be even more money out of that pocket of yours. Lastly, what will be the future of all these undereducated children be? Do you think they are going have high paying jobs and great medical insurance. NO WAY! So the money you are saving now could just be going to things like unemployment, social security and medicaid to help support these kids who education you have decided they don't need. Come on people this is a NO BRAINER! These kids are our future. If we don't educate them we are setting ourselves up for disaster. VOTE NO ON ARTICLE 1 !!!!!!

The number one piece of misinformation I've heard regarding education is that Music is NOT academic. People who hold this view should not be allowed to vote at Town Meeting - they don't understand the issue enough to make an educated decision.

I understand that our taxes are high, but as said in the previous comments it's due to lack of revenue. There was a mention in this article regarding sports, arts, and technology not being a part of education-maybe not years ago, but surely they are now! These are essential for the children of this town to have a well-rounded education! Find another school that does not offer these classes. Please understand that this is not something that you can turn your head to, we must stand up for whats right! The education that our schools are providing are setting the foundation of these children's education and future success! Whether or not you have children in the school system, your vote will effect these children for years to come! Not only would this impact the children of this town, it will negatively impact our property values. I encourage you to do research on how the school system within your town effects your property value. I invite all of you to look at the school district website, click on Armand R. Dupont School. You will see all that is at stake for our town's children, it goes far beyond art, music and gym. We simply cannot cut our school's budget by this outrageous amount! Please join me in voting NO on Article 1 on March 11th. Thank you!

Yes our taxes are high but NO our kids should not have to pay the price! Misinformed residents may think this is the tax break we need but we have to look at the big picture for both our town and the future of our kids. One million dollars effects a lot more than art and music and our current school budget includes more than just the elementary and middle schools. Don't forget about the tuition for students to go to Pembroke Academy that cannot be reduced. This means that the proposed budget cut effects K-8 directly which will put our kids at a disadvantage going into high school. Moving forward it's important that we elect qualified people to replace the uneducated individuals in office today. Also, Allenstown needs to loosen its stipulations on businesses to acquire new tax revenue. First, let's vote no to article #1 to cut the school's budget and then work with our elected officials to find an alternate source of income.

I am an Allenstown resident and land owner. Allenstown taxes are high and like many I struggle each year to pay on time. This million dollar cut was a selfish and poorly planned attack on our schools and on our children. If we want to cut our tax rate, lets not do so at the expense of our children. Lets look at the the tax rate as a whole. Then find ways to address it in a logical and systematic way. Rather than arbitrarily pull a number like 1 million dollars from no where and then expect the schools to just make it happen. This is an example of small town politics at its worse. I like many will be voting NO to this cut on March 11!

I understand the need for lower taxes along with everyone else (I am a resident and taxpayer), but it's important to look at the whole picture. Cutting $1 M from the school budget is not going to solve Allenstown's challenge - Allenstown has a revenue problem, not a spending problem (feel free to examine the budget in detail if you doubt this). Additionally, it's not accurate to look at school spending per capita without separating the special education spend from the other spending. Looking at the numbers this way tells a different story. Cutting this much from the budget is reckless, and will not provide any kind of permanent tax relief. Finally, I think some people forget that others paid taxes for our educations at some point, and thought it was important for us to have music, art and sports (thank goodness they did!). Music and art are actually both closely linked to mathematics (and an excellent way to teach and reinforce math), and playing sports not only fights obesity, but teaches children to work together cooperatively as a team, something that is vital in the working world. How can anyone in good conscience think it's OK to take these things away from small children? It's our job to give children as many opportunities as possible because not only is it the right thing to do, but because someday, they'll be paying for our care when we're seniors.

I see you say that Allenstown has a revenue problem, not a spending problem and that there is little business tax to help. Considering over 50% of NH private land is in “current use”, ~66% of the town of Canterbury is in “current use”, I wonder how much of Allenstown property is hidden in “current use”. I'm sure those owners who have their land in current use are fine with everyone else paying the eighth highest rate in the state as their land is shielded from that rate - in a property tax state. I have no children in the system but I am willing to pay my share, but when the state/towns take over 50% of the property out of the formula I have a problem. In NH the less you make the higher the percent of your total income goes to taxes. The more land you own the less you pay. So I agree, start with fixing the revenue problem.

Bear Brook State Park is all (? mostly, anyway) in Allenstown. How much does that pay? Bingo! The taxpayers of Allenstown just won a big, fat, goose egg. Any $tate land in Canterbury? Allenstown does have probably more trailer parks per capita than any town in the state. At least if that land were in current use, there would not be as many kids to school.

Please explain your rationale for the "formula" you just posited in which percentage of land in current use relates to number of students.

I believe your request is directed at me - Land in "current use" has nothing to do with the "number of students", it has to do with how the revenue is generated to educate them. In this property tax state each property owner pays a tax on the value of their property. If a said town puts 50% or 66% of the property in current use then that reduces the taxable property (revenue stream) for the town and shifts the burden on the remaining property owners. Those in that town that own the most property get the biggest tax break and those that own property that earn less end up paying a much higher effective tax rate compared to their earnings.

Your are correct as far as Bear Brook or other state land not paying into a town tax base. However my numbers noted, 50% and 66% are the percentage of private tax paying properties in "current use". ~~21,000 property owners have over 50% of all the private property in NH in “current use” not paying taxes the same as everyone else.

I believe that whether it is Allenstown or any other school district in NH that people need to look into what the difference between "needs and wants." If parents want their children taking sports, music and art as these are all wants then those parents need to pay. Does anyone know out their, in any given school district the cost of sports in the school district and what the number of individual students that make up the "total sports." I think everyone would be shocked. Whether Allenstown or any other school district in NH I believe the school district use "scare tactics" to make sure their budget is not cut. And yet in NH test scores prove the students may be below in math. No matter how much money we spend it is never quite enough.

I find it intersting that Allenstown with 2 schools pays more per student then Pembroke that has 4 schools. Maybe the School Budget Committe should meet with some of these other schools to see what they do diffently. Sometimes you need a breath of fresh air.

8.8 million dollars for 400 students is 22,000 per student. That is more money than tuition at some colleges and universities. The people of Allenstown are tired of run away budgets and taxes. Tuition at any of the local private elementary schools is half or a quarter of that. Maybe Allenstown should close the schools and tuition the kids to one of those schools. Oh yeah, they can't go to a school if God is there. Silly me.

Have you looked at the line items in the budget? Unfortunately, it's not a run-away budget. If it was, it would be an easier problem to solve. The challenge is that there is no business tax base in Allenstown, so the residents bear almost the full burden. Additionally, there are a lot of low-value homes. I'd add that tuition at private schools are typically lower because they don't have the special education costs (just stating fact), and because they're not subject to some of the regulations public schools are. I actually agree that it might work better to pay tuition, but until that comes to pass, it's our responsibility to give our kids the best education we can… and I don't have school-aged children.

If you want your child to take music and art classes, have the parents pay, like they do for dance classes.

Meanwhile . . . in China . . . all kids are required to take music. You know, CHINA . . . that country who's nipping at our heels in the race to be the world super-power.

Sure, let's be more like China.

How about . . . let's be more successful . . . ? ? ?

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