The Merrimack School Board on Tuesday night approved a budget a $65.9 million budget Tuesday night, but not before replacing a foreign language teaching position that was cut in the initial budget proposal from administration.
The board voted unanimously to return $30, 274 to the budget to reinstate a part-time language teacher, a compromise offered up at last week's Wednesday night budget hearing.
The position, which was originally one of 6.5 teaching positions cut in next year's budget due to declining enrollments an attempt to keep the budget as close to level-funded as possible, was lobbied for by students and parents at last Monday's budget hearing.
While numbers for the program in general are stable, it's the more advanced French classes that see a decline as students trickle out of them.
McLaughlin said last week that a returning a part-time position would be a good compromise and with current enrollments (next year's enrollment projections were not available) would provide adequate coverage for the advanced classes.
On Tuesday, board member Shannon Barnes initially called for a full-time replacement. She said she was concerned about burdening the Foreign Language Department Chair with too much work while and didn't want to short-staff the department.
However Barnes stood alone in the vote to replace a full-tim position – which would have added $70,000 back into the budget.
Board members Andy Schneider and George Markwell, who spoke to Barnes' motion said they didn't think cutting the full position would be prudent either, however.
“At least with half time position we provide the educational stability we're looking for,” Markwell said.
The board voted unanimously to return a part-time foreign language teacher.
That was the only change made to the budget since last Wednesday when the board voted to remove a million-dollar project to replace the Merrimack High School roof.
The project is part of the district's capital improvements plan, something that school board in recent years has followed closely in order to keep big-ticket spending on track without pushing projects off to a point that they pile up.
However, Facilities Director Tom Touseau told the board that he felt confident with the recent mild winters the high school roof could be put off for a short time without significant risk. Plus it won't be pushed too far down the road, as some bonded debt and asbestos abatement projects are coming to an end.
“There is going to be a holiday from some of those bigger numbers sooner than later,” Barnes said.
The $65.9 million proposed budget, with additions and subtractions made through the last few weeks is nearly $1.5 million less than the initially proposed $67.3 million budget presented by administration.
Though it doesn't level fund the 2012-13 budget, it is less than a one percent increase and is approximately $450,000 more than last year's $65.4 million budget.
Board member George Markwell lamented, following their vote, that the budget would likely be almost $900,000 below last year's budget if not for significant shortfalls in healthcare and retirement downshifted from the state.
Because Merrimack is an SB 2 school district, the budget process also requires factoring a default budget, should the proposed budget fail in the voting process. This year's default budget comes in higher than the recommended budget, at $66.3 million.
Speaking to his motion to approve the budget, Vice Chairman Davis Powell thanked the players who helped build this year's budget.
"There's been quite a bit of discussion that I think we were able to get quite a bit of good information," Powell said. "I feel comfortable with this budget. We were not able to come in level-funded or less than last year's but I feel very good about this number that we're putting forward and I thank the administration and all the building administrators for their hard work on this budget as well."
The budget will now be reviewed by the School Budget committee at a series of upcoming meetings, beginning with the first one on Tuesday, Jan. 29, at 7 p.m. in the Merrimack High School cafeteria.
The board also voted to recommend a series of draft warrant articles, including a $1.5 million proposal for a combined school administrative office and special services building – replacing the green and blue houses adjacent to the high school.
Both houses have been used well-beyond their useful lifespan, said Rich Hendricks, chairman of the Planning and Building Committee. The project has been given a rare listing of “Urgent” by the town planning board. Both houses are overcrowded, not built with the intent of what they are used for, don't meet Americans With Disabilities Act codes, and the blue house had its roof ripped off during Hurricane Sandy causing significant damage inside the building.
The bond project, which Patch will have more information upcoming article, would require a three-fifths majority vote at town meeting.