Few attend deliberative session of School District Meeting, most were staffers or related to Gilford School District
By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — Not only did voters at deliberation session of the Gilford School District Meeting on Tuesday return all of the money cut from the proposed school district budget by the Budget Committee, they added an additional $70,000 for an elementary school language arts teacher.
The moves, which were passed overwhelming by hand votes, means a $25,852,759 operating budget will appear on the town warrant for voters to make an yea or nay decision on March 8. The default budget is $25,688,824, which is lower by $163,935, and would go into effect if the proposed budget is voted down.
In reviewing the proposed school district budget, the public body added $115,508 for the other 1.5 percent of a proposed 3 percent merit raise for the nonunion members of the school district staff that had been cut by the Budget Committee. In addition, they added $15,000 longevity pay for administrators, $8,000 for professional development and training and $12,900 for maintenance. An additional $3,363 was returned to the budget for a variety of smaller miscellaneous items. All of these had been cut by the Budget Committee during its four-month review process.
Those attending the deliberative session also added an additional $70,000 for a language arts teacher for the elementary school. Chairman Karen Thurston said yesterday that language arts in the elementary school has been a recurring topic of discussion at the board and she said it would be up to the superintendent and elementary school administration to decide on a course of action.
Following the deliberative session, the Budget Committee convened and voted 9 to 1 not to recommend passage of the budget as revised by the people, with School Board representative Karen Thurston voting against.
Chairman Kevin Leandro said Wednesday that "it is a shame an organized body could add that much money," indicating that most of the people who came to the meeting were employees of the school district and their supporters. He also bemoaned the other people in the community who told members of the Budget Committee their taxes were too high but who didn't attend the deliberative session.
"This is why all people need to participate," Leandro said, adding that there were about 50 people total in attendance.
He said the Budget Committee was expecting the voters to return the money it cut for the nonunion staff raises and said he was personally ready to support that move.
He encouraged voters, "despite the fact that we know the default budget is artificially inflated and fraudulently prepared," to vote no on the town budget and let the default budget become next year's budget because it is about $200,000 lower.
"It's time to bring fiscal sanity back to the Gilford School District," he said.
Thurston said yesterday that she feels comfortable with the budget and said what the board was really hoping for was the reinstatement of the nonunion pay cuts.
"In my opinion, I was very disappointed with all of the name-calling and accusations," said Thurston. "We are not liars and we don't pad out budgets."
She said the argumentative and bully by certain members of the Budget Committee are not the kinds of examples the elected members of the community should be setting for the students. "I feel that Scott [Isabelle] and Kent [Hemingway] are owed an apology," she said.
"I feel the Budget Committee has an important role but we should be working together for the benefit of the school," Thurston said. "Our town wants to see us working together."
Following the deliberative session, the School Board voted 5 to 0 to recommend the final School District budget.
Voters will have their say when the budget and other warrant articles are presented on Election Day, March 8, at the Gilford Community Center.
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