GILMANTON — An attempt by some residents to impose a total property tax cap for three years on the School District went horribly awry Saturday when the warrant article was changed from allowing "zero" increases to "$10 million" at the deliberative session of town meeting.
If the article passes on March 11, the School District cannot increase it's budget by more than $10-million per year. But the School District's total annual budget is less than than sum now.
As written, the article restricted the Gilmanton School District to a $0-increase for the next three budgets after the budget for the 2014-2015 school year. The article was submitted as a request to adopt the provision of RSA 32:5-b that allows districts and towns to adopt tax caps.
With the operating budget at $9.6 million for both this school year and the next, Superintendent Joe Fauci said he couldn't foresee an occasion where the Gilmanton School Budget would literally double in size.
He said if the zero-cap recommendation passed as petitioned, it would have frozen the budget regardless of contractual obligations, including the tuition needed to send their high school children to Gilford, or special education expenses.
Neither the School Board nor the Budget Committee supports a tax cap.
Fauci said he wanted to assure the voters that tax cap or not, he would continue to develop responsible budgets that allow the district to educate its students while keeping the concerns of the taxpayers in mind.
A second petitioned warrant article will, if passed, eliminate the School District High School Expendable Trust that holds about $30,000 in the event unanticipated students move to Gilmanton and need to be tuitioned to Gilford High School.
If it is eliminated, the money would return to the taxpayers.
According to Fauci, the expendable trust account was established in 2003 when the Gilmanton School District entered into its 20-year agreement to educate high school students in the neighboring town.
He said the goal of the fund was to set aside enough money to cover two students.
At $17,425 per student, Fauci said the current fund balance would almost cover two students, which he said has traditionally been enough money.
Those who wish to eliminate it, including some member of the Budget Committee, said the fund has not been used for a number of years and that there is enough room in the regular operating budget to absorb the costs of a student or two should one or two of them move into the district mid-year.
In the same vein, the Budget Committee didn't recommend adding $10,000 to the Special Education Expendable Trust Fund that provides a cushion in the event a student who need special services moves into the district or moves into the district and needs to be placed into a specialized school. This article was placed on the warrant by the School District.
Right now, said Budget Committee Chair Brian Forst, the fund holds slightly over $190,000. He said the money is in a interest-bearing account and the amount of interest it will earn this year will bring it close to the $200,000 goal so the Budget Committee didn't recommend adding the $10,000.
Fauci said the district hasn't had to use the fund in a few years but supported adding to it because the costs of special education can be very high in some cases.
As an example, he said a child may need a full-time paraprofessional aid or may need to be sent outside of the district, however the district is still responsible for any costs incurred.
Voters go to the polls on March 11.