Merrimack Valley School District budget approved, contracts adopted 

By JAMIE L. COSTA

Monitor staff

Published: 03-11-2023 3:06 PM

The Merrimack Valley School District voters agreed to raise teacher salaries, pass the budget and renew a 10-year tuition agreement with the Andover School District Friday night at the annual meeting.

The $45.6 million budget, which carried a 2.3% increase, was adopted resoundingly by 156 to 34 in a secret ballot vote, but not before residents had a chance to question board members. 

Ahead of voting and public discussions, school board members outlined the major influences to the budget to include a 9.5% increase for special education, an additional $200,000 for private transportation expenses, an 11.1% benefit increase and the potential of early retirement.

In addition for special education services, the budget called for more than $200,000 to front special education transportation services, increasing the cost by nearly 25% from last year.

The rise, said Superintendent Mark MacLean, is driven by an influx of special education students and a change in services that school districts are required to provide, despite the lack of funding from state government. 

“I heard a collective gasp when the number for special education was announced and I’m here to tell you that you can pay for it now or you can pay for it later,” said Lisa Laughlin of Loudon. “We can take the time now to properly educate and support a child with special needs or we can stand back and let them become a complete burden to the system. Merrimack Valley does a great job with special education services and findings solutions that are not exceptionally costly, are reasonable and effective and teaches kids to use the tools they’re given.”

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Her comments was met with an overwhelming applause from the audience. 

In addition to adopting the 2023-2024 budget, residents also passed a new teacher contract to increase employee salaries and benefits.

The three-year contract with the Merrimack Valley Education Association carried an increase of $493,613 for salaries and benefits in the 2023-2024 school year, followed by an additional $362,519 increase in 2023-2024 and an additional $420,121 increase in 2025-2026. 

Some residents asked why teachers deserve a raise when the students are underperforming.

“Statistics show that students are failing; why should someone get a raise if they’re not meeting the minimal level of educating the students?” asked Mary Cozzens of Loudon. “I’m not saying they're not doing their very best but, if we’re giving them a raise, it should be shown that students are gaining knowledge so they can become successful in their futures.”

Many others spoke highly of their children’s educations and their teachers. 

Board members noted the need to stay competitive to attract and retain teachers while placing highly skilled professionals in the classroom and residents spoke of their experiences working for the school district and their children’s success having graduated from the Merrimack Valley School District. 

Lastly, residents were asked to renew the tuition agreement with the town of Andover, which is slated to expire June 30. The contract left many confused about the cost of tuition for Merrimack Valley students compared to those in Andover, which showed a $1,500 difference. 

“This is not a discount. We tried to determine what the cost of education would be without special education services for those that could be charged individually by student for the services they actually used,” explained school board member Lorrie Carey of  Boscawen.

Residents asked for greater transpa  rency prior to the annual meeting in the future, to which board members agreed. 

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