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Proposal to cut nearly $1 million from school budget fails

  • Voters from towns in the Merrimack Valley School District pose questions to the selectmen Thursday night, March 7, 2013 at Merrimack Valley High School before a vote on a $1 million cut in the schools district's budget, which would mean the loss of 25 to 30 positions in the district.<br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Voters from towns in the Merrimack Valley School District pose questions to the selectmen Thursday night, March 7, 2013 at Merrimack Valley High School before a vote on a $1 million cut in the schools district's budget, which would mean the loss of 25 to 30 positions in the district.
    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Residents hold up their voting cards during a town meeting to discuss the Merrimack Valley School District's budget Thursday night, March 7, 2013 at Merrimack Valley High School to vote on a $1 million cut in the schools district's budget, which would mean the loss of 25 to 30 positions in the district.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Residents hold up their voting cards during a town meeting to discuss the Merrimack Valley School District's budget Thursday night, March 7, 2013 at Merrimack Valley High School to vote on a $1 million cut in the schools district's budget, which would mean the loss of 25 to 30 positions in the district.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Pamela Hardy, supervisor of checklist-in for Boscawen, left, and Pam Malcolm, supervisor for checklist-out for Boscawen, check with each other that there are no discrepancies in the number of people who checked in and checked out while casting a vote during the meeting on the Merrimack Valley School District's budget Thursday night, March 7, 2013. The meeting took place at Merrimack Valley High School to vote on a $1 million cut in the schools district's budget, which would mean the loss of 25 to 30 positions in the district.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Pamela Hardy, supervisor of checklist-in for Boscawen, left, and Pam Malcolm, supervisor for checklist-out for Boscawen, check with each other that there are no discrepancies in the number of people who checked in and checked out while casting a vote during the meeting on the Merrimack Valley School District's budget Thursday night, March 7, 2013. The meeting took place at Merrimack Valley High School to vote on a $1 million cut in the schools district's budget, which would mean the loss of 25 to 30 positions in the district.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Voters from towns in the Merrimack Valley School District pose questions to the selectmen Thursday night, March 7, 2013 at Merrimack Valley High School before a vote on a $1 million cut in the schools district's budget, which would mean the loss of 25 to 30 positions in the district.<br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Residents hold up their voting cards during a town meeting to discuss the Merrimack Valley School District's budget Thursday night, March 7, 2013 at Merrimack Valley High School to vote on a $1 million cut in the schools district's budget, which would mean the loss of 25 to 30 positions in the district.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Pamela Hardy, supervisor of checklist-in for Boscawen, left, and Pam Malcolm, supervisor for checklist-out for Boscawen, check with each other that there are no discrepancies in the number of people who checked in and checked out while casting a vote during the meeting on the Merrimack Valley School District's budget Thursday night, March 7, 2013. The meeting took place at Merrimack Valley High School to vote on a $1 million cut in the schools district's budget, which would mean the loss of 25 to 30 positions in the district.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

A motion to cut the Merrimack Valley School District budget by about $988,000 was defeated last night in a secret ballot vote, 274-63.

“I feel very happy with the decision,” said Mark Hutchins, school board chairman. “I think it reflects our collective assessment of what the voters want in our school district.”

The nearly $1 million cut, proposed by Roy Merrill of Loudon, would have level funded the budget with last year’s. After the cut failed, the proposed $36 million budget was approved by a voice vote. Before the vote, board finance committee Chairman Troy Cowan outlined what $1 million in cuts would mean – about 20 to 25 layoffs. If the board cut vocational education, co-curricular activities, athletics, the school resource officer, student mentoring services and the wellness center, the budget would still be $50,000 shy of $1 million, he said.

“Level funding this budget tonight will result in a district that looks very different than it does today,” he said.

The difference from last year’s budget comes from an additional $450,000 in retirement contributions, $220,000 in health care costs and $450,000 from the second year of teacher and administrator costs. Those were partially offset by $300,000 less in building improvement money.

Fewer than 10 residents stood up to speak during the debate, with several asking about the cost of the International Baccalaureate program and the yearly fund balance. Questions about Superintendent Mike Martin’s salary and bond interest payments also came up. Lorieal Jordan-Foote, president of the teachers union, asked about the future effect of layoffs.

Ken Ross-Raymond, chairman of Salisbury’s board of selectmen, asked about the district assessment number, which is what taxpayers actually pay. It’s projected at $19.8 million, about $1.5 million more than last year. The assessment listed in the budget is a worst-case scenario, board members said, because there is usually leftover money at the end of the year. Last year taxpayers got $613,000 back.

Ross-Raymond and Bill Murphy, a member of Boscawen’s budget committee, asked why there is a surplus if the budget is as tight as possible.

“It is not logical to believe that the reduction will be significant, given that the current budget is supposed to be bare-bones to start with,” Murphy said.

The surplus is there for new needs that may arise. If an increased number of special education students are in the district, for example, there needs to be a cushion so the district can provide adequate services, Cowan said.

Murphy also asked about the hidden costs of IB, but school administrators said it all comes from grant funding. He asked the board to present a breakdown of funding for all IB-related activities with next year’s budget.

Steve Jackson of Loudon credited the board for being prepared with answers, but he wasn’t satisfied with the budget. The towns continue to cut budgets or put off buying new fire trucks and repairing roads because people can’t afford the taxes, he said, and board members should remember they are elected by taxpayers. Jackson said he works as a Realtor and has helped people move because they can’t afford to pay their taxes.

“Yes we are a property tax-based state, this is the way we’ve chosen to fund our education, but we’re creating a lot of homeless people,” he said. “We have a school board here that year after year cannot find a way to give us some relief.”

Liz Blanchard, a Penacook resident and Concord city councilor, said a lack of state funding is to blame for the increase and urged people to vote against the cut.

“I would strongly recommend that you not vote for this motion to amend the budget because we provide not just an adequate education for our students, but we provide an excellent education and we should be proud of it,” she said.

After the budget passed, every other warrant article passed without debate, including the approval of a three-year contract for support staff. It will cost $605,823 over the next three years, with $239,806 in the first year. Voters also approved $700,000 for food services and special education programs, but that money doesn’t come from taxpayers.

William Renauld of Penacook, Thomas Godfrey of Webster, Caroletta Alicea of Boscawen and Mark Hutchins of Salisbury were all re-elected to the board.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

Legacy Comments23

ACTUALLY JIMMY . . . I still AM a teacher. And yes, in my 18+ years of teaching I've ALWAYS missed a vote. I've NEVER been to one of the budget votes in the town I teach in because I've NEVER LIVED in the town I teach in. And this . . . . "There is plenty of open land in other states and the reason is low property taxes for everyone." I was going to click "report abuse" on this because it's an abuse of the human brain that you wrote this. I dunno where you've been looking but there is certainly not "plenty of open land in other states." and whether there is or is not open land in a state really has nothing to do with "low property taxes for everyone."

Oh Danny boy, you need to get out of NH and see the country side. I hope you’re not telling your students that outside of NH the buildings are door to door across the country........ Your very argument for current use is that the low taxes keep NH land open and then you say low property taxes for ALL the citizens of the state would have nothing to do with keeping land open. Can it be both? I personally know a number of people that have 15/ 20 acres behind their home. They love current use as they keep the property for future gains when they sell and pay little tax on it every year. One person has over 100 acres and their full intent is that when they decide to retire they hope to sell to a big city developer for a housing project. They freely say the only conservation they are thinking of is how many tax dollars they are conserving for themselves…… Wake up NH (unless of course you have property in current use), this is a property tax state that exempts over 50% of the property.

Sorry Jim, your assumption that Current Use is all about Land Barons is incorrect. You need to realize who owns the parcels in NH under Current Use. Current Use is not just about Farms. It is also about Forest Land. Forest Land brings a lot of income to NH and provides jobs. Not sure where you got the idea that big land barons are the ones who own property in nh. Even if that was true, they do not buy large tracks of land and let it sit there. They expect a profit through timber harvesting etc. Land is an investment that investors expect a profit on.

RabbitNH - If "some" of theses parcels are there to make a profit then they are a business and should fall under business laws. Simple as that. Yes, the state does give tax breaks to business to encourage job creation and growth and I can go along with that. However, most of the parcels are small behind the house woodlots, not the big business you refer to. I would like to see low property taxes for "everyone" in NH. Why should a person on a fixed income have to move because they cannot afford the high property tax on a ¼ or ½ acre primary home just to subsidize the larger land owners. Just seems backwards to me.

The person on a fixed income on a small lot is being taxed to death with school costs, union fees, and a state govt that wastes tax payers money at every turn.

The problem with keeping costs down with "efficiently" is that there is always a private sector contractor just waiting to line their pockets. Just where does this government spending end up - yup the private sector. As for school budgets, there are always hidden and fixed costs that add more each year. When was the last time your gas, electric, phone or heating bills went down? Building maintenance, supplies and transportation costs are also an issue. It speaks highly of MV voters that they could put a value on a good education and not succumb to the standard bash the teachers excuses.

I am glad that I am not in that school system. It is disgraceful enough that it is an IB school but everyone should note that this would have been a cut of the proposed increase of $1 million, NOT a cut to the level of last years budget. A cut is something done to existing budgets, not proposed budgets. People simply have NO common sense.

You're playing semantic games. The budget was set to maintain staffing and services at current levels. Rare is the situation where fixed costs go down--insurance, supplies, etc. Per pupil costs in the district are well below the state average. The vote is a testament to the good sense of the voters, who care about quality schools.

To progressives, money is the answer to everything but it is not the answer to educational excellence. Fixed costs don't go up up $1M in one year. I bet that salaries were increased, care to find out how much of an increase the taxpayers who are paying for those new salaries got last year. In town meeting, often the minority that shows up wins the day, but not the future.

Once more: per pupil costs in the MV district are below the state average. One of the main drivers of increasing costs in everybody's budget--including schools-- is health insurance. And it didn't help matters that the TP legislature downshifted more costs to the local level. Your 'know--nothing' answer to every problem is to cut spending and programs. Exactly how that will create "educational excellence" is left unexplained--though we can guess you support "privatization" as the answer to the quest for excellence. It's the corollary to the mantras of "tax cuts" and "spending cuts ". But it's really a recipe for more of what the nation has experienced over the past 3 decades, and a principal reason taxpayers' wages have stagnated. Private-for profit education doesn't work well--the idea that education can be turned into a profit-making enterprise is laughable--as the scandals in "for-profit" higher education show. MV's decision to adopt IB was designed to take the district to the next level of educational excellence. Those who see things from a paranoid Bircher (pardon the redundancy) perspective oppose the initiative for its tenuous (at best) connection to the UN. More fundamentally, extremists fear real educational excellence-- which means developing students who can think for themselves. That's why, for instance, they're often so busy pushing anti-science materials that support creationism, climate-science denialism, and history texts that whitewash our history with claims of a American exceptionalism.

Notice ITSA that the folks who champion IB never tell you how much it will cost. Another teaching fad that in the end will result in costing students more to attend college, because a lot of their IB credits are not accepted at colleges. It is more important to get a world view in teaching than it is to actually produce students that can do math, science or reading.

Yes, the Left has very cleverly, through political correctness and in the name of "diversity" and "celebrating" cultural differences, turned the educational system into a propaganda machine. IB is a United Nations canard and is all about molding minds to one mindset instead of allowing free thought and common sense to prevail. It is feel good progressive agenda vs real education.

I hope you both took the time to read Grant Bosse's piece in today's Monitor.

Lots of things wrong with IB besides what they actually teach. They hide the costs to the taxpayer, many IB credits are not accepted at colleges which results in the student having to take courses before they enter college or not get into the college they want.

Glad to see the majority of Merrimack Valley voters see the benefit of a quality education for the District's children. Merrimack Valley has significantly improved the education provided to "our" kids over the past 20 years or so and its imperative that it continue. Thank you to the Board members who volunteer so much of their time to the children in the district and at the same time doing their utmost to keep costs down. Thank you to the voters for continuing to support quality education.

Thanks for standing up for education Merrimack Valley voters. Now, can we please find ANOTHER WAY to finance our public education system?!?!?

Another Way - are you suggesting an income tax, sales tax or more gambling taxes?? What if a "property tax " state taxed all the property at market value - remove "current use" exemptions which amounts to ~50% of the property in NH.......... I was wondering how many of those 274 secret ballot votes were employed by the school departments. Kinda like voting yourself a raise at the tax payers expense. How about a law saying private businesses in NH must let all the employees vote if they get a raise and more benefits at the employers expense.

Silly Jim . . . you must think that the PUBLIC sector is SUPPOSED to be run EXACTLY like the PRIVATE sector. When in reality - THAT WAS NEVER SUPPOSED TO BE THE CASE! Business = supposed to make a profit. Govt. = not supposed to make a profit.

Actually if govt is run efficiently, then we can keep the costs down of running it. I do believe that many state and govt depts are under the impression that they can waste tax payers money and not be held accountable.

Dan, I believe your are/were a teacher. Did you ever miss a town vote on if you got a raise. The few teachers I know say they would never miss a vote on education costs, it gives them a raise and makes their job easier with more help. One of them pointed out to me one time the basic fact, they were happy to pay more taxes because the more they paid the higher the raise they got...... RabbitNH is 100% correct, many state workers (as yourself it appears) feel there is no reason to try to keep costs down. The state is expected to run poorly and never cover its costs.

Your suggestion to do away with current use would likely very quickly change the look of NH, transforming it into MA or NJ thanks to rapid and unplanned development of open space, and result in the loss forever of valuable agricultural land. Paying "market value" property taxes on valley bottomland that has been farmed for generations would put local dairy farmers out of business immediately. The resulting development would cost more in terms of demand for services than preserving open space in current use. Your idea is a lose/lose for both the environment and the budget. An income or sales tax (or some combination of both) is the only long term solution. Eventually NH will see the light, when it has finally exhausted all the other nickel and dime possibilities. For example, when gambling alone fails to generate sufficient revenue, Free State 'Soilers' might consider legalized prostitution; legalized brothels coupled with state sale of marijuana in the liquor stores would certainly make NH a go-to destination for a whole new class of vacationers, and give the state a twist on our license plate motto: How about "Live Free and High"? And how about the state selling t-shirts: "Made in NH."? Consider the revenue possibilities.

Actually Bruce I agree with you. I continually speak of current use to show the people that 50% of the property in NH is in current use and therefore valued way way below market value. Those farms are a business and should be viewed the same as any other business but most property in current use is setting behind people’s houses. NOT working farms. Everyone talks of the great conservation means of current use when in reality that land can be sold any day of the week to anyone they choose. Current use is nothing more than a tax haven for large land owners. Get the 1/4, 1, 2 acre house lots to pay extra so they pay less but their property goes up in value every year. There is plenty of open land in other states and the reason is low property taxes for everyone. When you think about it, those that have the most are taxed the least and their is your NH Advantage.

I can't believe it but we actually agree on something. Current use is a good thing, it does indeed stop NH from becoming over developed and stops people from losing their land due to high taxes. If current use on 100 acres was taxed like regular land, only developers would own the land and they would "develop" it. However, an income tax is not the answer but a sales tax might be if it exempted food, clothing and prescription drugs. If you spend money and buy things you pay a tax, that will not hurt those who are not able to purchase items beyond food, clothing, prescriptions. However, native Americans have made a fortune on gambling, we should copy their example.

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