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Voters cut $1 million from proposed Hillsboro-Deering schools budget at deliberative session

Voters at the Hillsboro-Deering School District deliberative session directed officials to cut $1 million from the proposed budget, which school officials said could lead to staff layoffs and endanger efforts to improve education.

The school board’s proposed budget showed an increase of more than $988,000 from the current budget, a 4.8 percent jump officials said is largely due to downshifting of costs from the state and other contractual obligations.

The proposed budget was $20,662,098, plus $827,000 for the district’s share of the SAU 34 budget.

Carmen Young said she made the motion to cut $1 million from the district budget Monday night to inspire administrators to cut costs that don’t directly affect students.

“There was a group of us that met as concerned taxpayers before the meeting, and we felt that the administrative costs for 1,234 students was quite out of line,” Young said yesterday. “We love our teachers, we think they are doing a great job, but it has to do with the SAU looking at what kind of duplication they have, what kind of things they can cut out of administrative that aren’t necessary and don’t have a direct effect on the students. The student is the product, not paper.”

The local school tax rate in Hillsboro is $14.52 per $1,000 of assessed property value this year; it’s $14.04 per $1,000 of assessed value in Deering.

Cuts like what Young has in mind will be hard to make, given that the majority of the proposed increase came from what Superintendent Robert Hassett called non-negotiable lines in the budget.

The largest single increase in his proposal was $252,529 in payments to the New Hampshire Retirement System, the result of the state government reducing its share last year, Hassett said in a meeting with the Monitor last month.

Hassett came out of retirement in Massachusetts to take the job leading the district this summer, becoming the district’s third superintendent in three years.

His proposal also included $225,254 for contracted pay increases for teachers moving up the pay scale, and for an English teacher and basketball program at Hillsboro-Deering Middle School.

Hassett also budgeted a $121,667 increase for rising health insurance premiums and $153,000 for new computer equipment and books for the schools.

Hassett spent yesterday in meetings with administrators, and said the work of preparing for the cut will continue this week.

“We’re going to cut every corner, tighten our belt in every imaginable spot, which we had done for this budget already,” he said. “We’ll put off purchasing materials and computer equipment, but those are things that are going to have to be purchased eventually anyway. . . . But when you get to $1 million you have to look at laying off staff.”

No decisions were made yesterday, but Hassett said discussions included possibly charging community groups to use school buildings, moving to a pay-to-play model for high school athletics, and cutting music, art and classroom teachers at all district schools.

“I was very surprised at the number,” he said. “This is my first year here and I heard that at the deliberative, very often anyone can stand up and pull a number out of their hat. It’s not based on anything educationally sound, it’s not a realistic approach, and not in the best interest of children to do this.”

School board member Terry Cutter said the cut could hurt efforts to improve the district, even if voters reject the proposed budget.

The default budget is now about $650,000 more than the proposed budget, but still significantly less than the administration requested.

“I would recommend that everybody vote ‘no’ on the budget and support the default budget, but I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Cutter said. “I think it is definitely going to have an impact on the direction the school is headed, but we’ll try to minimize that.”

Voters in the district will have their say in the polls March 12.

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

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