Allenstown School District: Vote no on Article 1
Bal Gautam, left, and Til Chouhan, survey what's left after a fire destroyed the Rustic Crust pizza business in Pittsfield late Thursday night into Friday morning. Both were employees of the company for 3 years along with Gautam's wife, Bishnu Gautam, who began working there about a week ago. The town's water supply was depleted cancelling school on Friday as around fifty firefighters responded to the four-alarm fire.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
Rustic Crust in Pittsfield.
(Bob Legg / Courtesy photo)
On Feb. 1, a few dozen Allenstown voters agreed to slash the school board’s proposed budget. When voters head to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to approve those cuts, they’ll read on the ballot that the school board recommends the far smaller budget.
Except in reality, the board adamantly opposes the cuts.
So, what’s a voter to think? And how did this scenario come to pass?
The confusion can be traced to a state law that regulates how warrant articles are presented, said Allenstown Town Administrator Shaun Mulholland. After consulting with a representative at the Department of Revenue Administration, Mulholland said he was told it would be illegal for him to reverse the school board’s recommendations on the ballot.
“It’s counterintuitive,” Mulholland said.
Law dictates that in SB 2 voting, once a warrant is officially posted before a deliberative session, few changes can be made – even when voters make those changes themselves at the annual session, Mulholland said. The budget numbers can be adjusted following amendments at a deliberative session, but little else can be altered, he said.
Sen. John Reagan, a Deerfield Republican who represents Allenstown residents, said he will introduce legislation next year to clarify warrant law, but, for now, there is nothing he can do to help.
“Normally I support tax cuts, but this is not an orderly process,” Reagan said. “You have to have an orderly process or the alternative is chaos.”
Many parents, educators and school supporters have rallied around the issue since a group of residents unexpectedly cut $1 million from the proposed budget at the deliberative session. If the $8.8 million proposed budget is voted down Tuesday, the $9.7 million budget originally introduced by the school board will be adopted.
Recommendations made by school boards, budget committees and boards of selectmen are common on warrant articles across the state, but the law that dictates how those recommendations can and do appear is complicated, said Sandra Champagne, a supervisor at the municipal services division in the state department of revenue in Concord.
Champagne has not seen the Allenstown warrant articles in question, but from her reading of the law, it seems the trouble in Allenstown began when the recommendations were added to the original warrant.
“There’s nothing in the law that allows recommendations to be placed on the operating budget article, so there is nothing that allows them to change it,” she said. “It’s not supposed to be there in the first place.”
There is language in the law that allows recommendations – and thus alterations of those recommendations – to other proposals made in elections, such as special warrant articles, Champagne said. A budget article is statutory, so its language is not allowed to be changed, she said.
Mulholland said he had discussions with the department of revenue regarding the same law and was told the town is allowed to include recommendations by the budget committee and school board, but the town is not allowed to change those recommendations once posted.
Like Champagne said, it’s complicated.
Whatever the source of the confusion, Allenstown School District Superintendent Helene Bickford said it is not fair to the students. She said residents should be receiving more information in the mail explaining what the district wants, which is for them to vote no on Article 1.
The cuts facing the town’s elementary and middle school students are profound, Bickford said. The schools will lose special education instructors. Art, music and physical education teachers will be dismissed. The school libraries will close. Field trips and sporting teams will no longer be available, she said.
“That’s definite,” Bickford said Tuesday. “There is no doubt these things will happen.”
If the budget cuts are adopted, Bickford said the school district will no longer be in compliance with the state Department of Education’s basic requirements, which will result in an additional $500,000 lost in state contribution.
The proposed 9 percent reduction in spending would have to be absorbed by the Allenstown Elementary and Armand R. Dupont Middle schools. The town pays tuition to send its 170 older students to Pembroke Academy and has no control over that school district’s budget.
Allenstown’s cost per student is $14,400 for each kindergarten through eighth-grade student, Bickford said. The state average is $13,500, she said. That number isn’t found by simply dividing the number of students into the budget, she said, because costs such transportation and the running of the SAU are not included.
(Daira Cline can be reached at 369-3306 or email@example.com.)