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Public hearing on Concord’s school budget sees low turnout

The Concord School Board’s first public hearing on the
$73 million proposed budget lasted less than 20 minutes, with no questions from the seven-member audience.

Business Administrator Jack Dunn ran through the budget highlights, detailing where the 2.21 percent increase comes from as well as a breakdown of expenses. After accounting for projected revenue (which is subject to change), taxpayers would contribute about $46.5 million, setting a rate of about $13.43 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Another public hearing will be held tomorrow at 7 p.m. in the multipurpose room at Mill Brook School. The board will have a final work session Monday and adopt the finalized budget March 27. A full budget is available on the district’s website.

“We hope that people examine the budget in advance of the meetings and they come with questions or comments,” board President Kass Ardinger said. “It’s really the only way that the board can know the feelings and sensibilities of the community.”

Of the increases, 42 percent comes from rate increases in the New Hampshire Retirement System, 34 percent from salary increases in previously approved contracts, 19 percent for technology updates and 5 percent from higher costs to Concord Steam.

While crafting the budget, the district tried to maintain class sizes, allocate resources to aid in implementing the new Common Core State Standards, increase the availability of technology, and provide appropriate resources for dealing with children with complex needs. Next year, for example, the district will add five new teaching assistants for children with special needs.

In benefits, contributions to the retirement system are up by 25 percent, or about $914,000. But unlike many other districts, Concord is seeing a decrease in health care costs of about $378,000. The budget also accounts for a $732,000 increase in salaries, which is the result of the second year of contracts for teachers, teaching assistants, administrative assistants and unaffiliated groups. Right now, the board is negotiating contracts with administrators, custodians, food service employees, bus drivers and members of the maintenance and transportation unit.

Spending on technology is up by $425,000, from purchasing and leasing new computer equipment and improving infrastructure. Integrating new technology into the classroom has been a recent priority for the district. In the three new elementary schools, for example, each student has access to an iPad that teachers use to enhance learning and track progress. The board hopes to make similar technology available throughout the district.

Building improvements such as replacing carpets and tiles, installing new intercom systems, updating the Rundlett courtyard and replacing lockers are in the proposal. A new roof for Concord High School at a cost of $229,000 is also included in the budget, but that project will be paid for through capital reserves, which means it will not cost taxpayers.

Other new costs include $20,000 for an autism specialist, $19,000 for the high school’s accreditation process, upgrades to the bus system and other vehicles, and higher property and liability insurance. Some of those increases are offset by a $163,000 decrease in interest on debt, $21,000 less in debt principal, and $616,000 less transferred to trust accounts.

Dunn also said there are some unpredictable sources of revenue, such as funding from the state and federal governments. The Internal Revenue Service has said there will likely be a $10,000 cut from the Qualified School Construction Bond for the purchase of an HVAC system at Rundlett Middle School.

Superintendent Chris Rath said an audience member asked before the meeting how sequestration would affect special education and other federal grants. The district doesn’t know at this time, but Rath said she has been told a 5 percent cut is a good estimate.

“We don’t have details at this point,” she said.

Rath first presented her budget in January, then the school board held nine work sessions to discuss and make small changes to each section of the budget. The initial budget did not include the cost of the new roof, but aside from that change, the budget presented last night reflects only minor changes from what Rath presented, Ardinger said.

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

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