Merrimack Valley officials hope state will keep education aid high to ease tax burden

Monitor staff
Published: 3/3/2021 6:15:49 PM

Merrimack Valley School District voters on Friday will choose their elected officials and decide financial matters, including the school budget that calls for cutting positions in order to lessen the tax impact of salary increases and ballooning retirement costs.

Voting for elected positions will happen during the day at the high school, followed by an in-person meeting at 7 p.m. to settle the district’s financial matters.

School officials are asking voters to wear a two-layer face covering, and abide by six-foot distancing. Volunteers will be screened for temperature in the lobby, and hand sanitizing stations will be set up throughout the venue.

At the annual meeting, which will be held at the high school gymnasium, voters will be deciding whether to pass the proposed $42 million school budget, the salary agreement with the administrators union, among other items.

The $42,818,662 proposed school budget is a 0.6% increase over the 2020-2021 budget of $42,579,470.

The district is hoping for the passage of a bill in the Legislature that would require the N.H. Department of Education to consider enrollment numbers from both 2019-2020 and 2020-2021, and use the larger number to calculate education grants for next year, effectively holding districts harmless for reduced enrollment due to the pandemic. If the legislation were to pass, tax increases on the sending towns would be slightly less. SB 135 has passed 24-0 in the Senate, but has not yet been introduced in the House.

“Across systems, needs have been assessed and closely analyzed,” Superintendent Mark MacLean said in his annual superintendent report. “The District’s primary goal is to deliver a safe, inclusive, and high-quality education to the 2,300 students in grades preK - 12 in the MVSD. With that charge, the board and administration also strive to be fiscally responsible, appreciative, and ever-mindful of where education funding comes from.”

Most of Merrimack Valley’s budget increases this year are due to rises in health and benefits costs and salaries for employees. There is about $550,000 in additional retirement expenses for the district, due to an increase imposed by the New Hampshire Retirement System. There is also a nearly $130,000 increase in health care premiums. Collective bargaining agreements between the district and employee unions make up about $570,000 of new expenses.

Also on the budget is a $56,920 increase for Career and Technical Education program tuition, due to an increase in the number of students attending. There is a $10,513 increase for school resource officer services, due to a salary increase by the Concord Police Department. 

There is a $10,000 increase proposed for security, to replace old analog systems with digital ones. For technology, there’s a $10,000 increase for new equipment at the middle school.

The district found ways to cut costs in other areas, to keep the budget lower. The budget for regular education has been decreased by almost $375,000, after the reduction of four employee positions, and a decrease in expected separation pay.  

“While losing personnel compels schools to plan and allocate resources differently, we are confident that these cuts will not impact student services in any negative manner,” MacLean wrote in his report.

The special education fund will also be decreasing slightly, due to changing service needs among the student body as students age out and graduate. There’s been a reduction of one special education bus monitor position.

The annual meeting will be held in person in the Merrimack Valley High School gymnasium at 7 p.m. The auditorium and classrooms will be used for overflow seating if necessary. 

Polls will be open for voting in the gymnasium from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m., for ballot voting on the moderator position and six seats on the district’s 11-member school board.

Incumbent board chair Seelye Longnecker is running unopposed for Salisbury’s three-year term on the board, while incumbent Laura Vincent is running unopposed for Loudon’s three-year term and incumbent Owen Harrington is unopposed for Boscawen’s one-year term. In Webster, incumbent Melissa Muzzy is being challenged by Kimberly Kenney for a three-year term, and district-wide, incumbent Jessica Wheeler Russell is being challenged by Jennifer Lacasse for a two-year at-large seat. In Salisbury, Louise Andrus, Peggy Jones-Blanchard and Raymond Wilson are running for a one-year term.

Charles Niebling is running unopposed for district moderator.

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