LACONIA — The School Board's Budget and Personnel Committee met last night and concluded they will recommend to the City Council the elimination of one full-time position at the Middle School, one half-time position in the elementary schools and the technology initiative that will affect the entire district.
The cuts will equal the $100,000 the City Council asked the school district to evaluate before its final budget for Fiscal Year 2016 is set. A brief letter addressing the cuts will be sent to the City Council.
"They have said they (council members) would (make the cut), but remember, they asked from where so they could understand the impact," said Business Administrator Ed Emond, who added that the city is asking the same from it's portion of the budget meaning both the city and the school have equal amounts of skin in the game.
At the June 22 meeting of the City Council, councilors suggested a $100,000 reduction from the operating budget or a $150,000 reduction if the money was going to come from contributions to any of the reserve or capital funds.
Emond said, and the committee members agreed, that $100,000 was better than $150,000 — not necessarily from the viewpoint of this year's budget that began on July 1, but for budgets in the future because the cut erodes the base of the property tax cap and limits the ability of the city to raise money through local revenue in the future.
He and Chair Scott Vachon noted that the future problem will be particularly acute because there is currently a zero inflation rate, which translates to about one-half of the value of next year's cap increase and causes a negative "multiplier effect" that will continue into future years.
As to programming itself, all three members — Vachon, Chris Guilmet, and Mike Persson — said the cuts for this year will hurt. While the two positions are currently vacant, the $20,000 to $30,000 for technology means at best a delay in the introduction of the one-to-one computer program that is designed to give every student first-hand access to a computer. Technology is also a big part of the recently accepted strategic plan.
"We need to have (our students) know how to use a computer for everything we do," said Vachon, adding that not teaching computer skills in the schools is a disservice to the students.
Guilmet's concern was the idea that the City Council was trying to micromanage the school budget by dictating where the cuts would be made. He said why don't we just say we'll cut $100,000 from our budget and tell them the School Board will decide where.
"That won't give them the right to cut one program as opposed to another," he said.
Emond said the school budget is a bottom line budget and the School Board has the authority to spend it where ever it decides.
"At what point do we make the case that our district has a growing low-income population which means more kids need more services," said Persson. "...is this so they can save (each taxpayer) two cups of coffee?"
Persson asked about the athletic budget and wanted to know why the administration didn't look harder at it. He said he supports all sports but the mandate of the school is to educate the students.
"If this (trend) continues and we can't meet the needs of all the students, that's where we'll be forced to look next," said Vachon, recommending the sports programs be evaluated beginning in the fall.
All expressed concern about Fiscal Year 2017 because all three teacher contracts expire on June 30, 2016 and must be renegotiated this year. In addition, Emond said the payroll is about $12 million so if the employees get a 3-percent raise that adds up to $360,000. He said the average increase in health insurance is 6 percent annually which is $150,000, and the increase in retirements contributions is another concern.
"If our CPIU (Consumer Price Index-Urban) is zero, the $100,000 this year would make up some of those increases in the next year," Emond said.
All members agreed that the property tax cap, enacted in 2005, has made the city and the school better, but they also said they school district has abided by the terms of the cap and how it works because that's what the voters wanted.
"Continued cuts below the tax cap have long term effects," Emond said.
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