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School Board Approves $65.9M 2013-14 Budget

Board also recommends a $1.5 million project to replace the special services building and district administrative offices.

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.

 

Gary G. Krupp January 25, 2013 at 12:54 AM
Andy 1. How could anyone know you had this meeting? If you do it behind closed doors where nobody else is able to observe your assumptions and data then why should we trust your conclusions? Did you consider consolidating preschool to one of the schools? How many students are in each classroom through the day? How are you measuring "fully utilized"? Are all classrooms being used as classrooms? If the process were transparent, maybe some questions would be answered. 2. Interesting you choose to point out that the elementary population levelling off in 5-7 year timeframe. I presume you got that info from the budget book here http://www.merrimack.k12.nh.us/files/filesystem/Budget%20Message1.pdf (pg 30/49). The chart in the lower left shows elementary levelling off starting in 2017-18 but then goes on to include this disclaimer: "Projections are more reliable for Years 1-5 in the future than for Years 6 and beyond." Translation: "after year 5, we just guessed things stay the same." Very convienient for your argument but look at the current K-4 numbers and years 1-5 as listed in the table: Year______K-4___K-6 2012-13__1356__1956 2013-14__1330__1934 2014-15__1279__1890 2015-16__1277__1868 2016-17__1276__1817 2017-18__1290__1814 These number project a drop of 66 students in K-4 before the guestimated levelling off point (a drop of 142 if you consider K-6).
Gary G. Krupp January 25, 2013 at 01:05 AM
3. I do engage George as I do all members of the Board on issues that I am concerned about. It may interest you to know that we don't always agree. Unlike other board members, however, George will listen to what I have to say and treat my opinions with respect. he will also explain himself when he disagrees and allow me to poke at his rationale. He's also not afraid to change his mind if I happen to enlighten him. Lastly, I am sorry that you are disappointed ... join the club. I am disappointed by the lack of transparency by the District in general and my elected representatives specifically. Parents/taxpayers are required to ask the right combination of questions to open the vault of information for some things. People are too worried about "why do you want to know?" rather than saying "how can I help get you the information you are looking for?" You should be more proactive at making sure data is available to the public BEFORE it is requested and you should not be afraid to share unflattering information. This building may indeed be the right thing to do but because I haven't been given the opportunity to arrive at the same conclusion and because this is the same song and dance that netted us a middle school that we probably could have done without, I am skeptical. I don't think I am alone.
Rich January 25, 2013 at 03:31 AM
Thank you Andy.
George Markwell January 25, 2013 at 02:44 PM
Andy, I would like to see the data from your meeting with Administration? "1. I sat w/administration last summer to look at the feasibility of moving the 6th grade to MMS and 5th grade back down to the 3 elementary schools, using existing 5-7 year enrollment projections. The net result is that the 3 elementary schools could not accommodate the required added 5th grade classes due to kindergarten and preschool classroom usage, and that MMS did not have adequate space to accommodate the additional 6th grade teams with the current structure. In both scenarios, school additions would be required to achieve the compression you've talked about. "
Andy Schneider January 25, 2013 at 06:07 PM
George - this was an informal conversation I had one day just to play the "what if", for my own edification, to see whether the class sizes moved out of JMUES would be able to fit within the existing buildings, taking into account the enrollment trending. I didn't take any notes and kept the conversation very simple to see what was feasible. Once I personally felt that the student volumes just wouldn't work, I stopped the inquiry. It was nothing more than that, and not even something formally done as a SB member - mostly just as a taxpayer wanting a cursory idea about sizing...... -andy

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