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.
(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.
(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 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.
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.”
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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)