LACONIA — "The current tax cap is preventing Laconia from successfully attracting middle class families to Laconia and is causing us to steadily lose the strong middle class that once was the backbone of our city," Mike Persson told the City Council this week.
Persson, a member of the School Board, was speaking at a public hearing on the municipal budget, which included deep cuts in school spending. "I am not happy with the city's proposed budget and believe that it is inadequate to meet the city's needs now and into the future," he said.
For middle class families, Persson noted, the quality of public schools is a major factor in their choice of where to live.
"Beyond our inability to expand programming to increase quality," he said, "the tax cap has prevented our teacher pay from keeping pace with other area districts and our current teacher pay is not competitive."
Persson distributed spreadsheets comparing the salaries of teachers in the Laconia School District with their counterparts in Gilford, Inter-Lakes and Concord and remarked that "my jaw dropped" at the comparisons. The disparities, he said, are widest in the middle of the pay scale, among teachers with between eight and 19 years of experience. With the tax cap, Persson said, the district cannot overcome the disparities and offer competitive salaries, even if all new monies were applied to compensating teachers for next five to seven years.
He suggested that young teachers will become experienced in Laconia then leave for more lucrative positions in other districts. As Laconia's most experienced teachers retire, he concluded, "We will be left with a revolving door of new teachers who we will spend money to train, to the benefit of surrounding districts." Offering several examples of administrators and teachers who have left the district, he said that "With cuts of over $1.6 million from the schools' 2016 programs and uncertainty of future budget cuts causing anxiety for our teachers, this trend is sure to continue."
Persson said that unless Laconia can compete with neighboring school districts for the best teachers and can invest in more expansive educational programming, the city will fail to retain and attract middle families.
"As middle class class families move out," he said, "they are being replaced by lower-income families," a trend raises the cost of social services, lowers property values and discourages investment and development. "The end result," Person warned, "will be that our tax bills will increase even though our property values are decreasing."
In urging the council to address these issues, Persson suggested they "amend the tax cap to ensure that it does not prevent us from making the investments that are needed to ensure our success."
Persson was echoed by Kevin Treat, who recently moved to Laconia from Merrimack. He said he was disappointed by the cuts to the school budget, particularly in light of the "low ratings of the schools" and the turnover of teachers and administrators. Like Persson, he pointed to the tax cap as the source of the problems.
Aaron Hayward said that despite a 27 percent increase, spending per student in the Laconia School District is the lowest in the Lakes Region by $2,000 or more. Since the tax cap was introduced, he said that teachers' salaries have slid from 49th in the state to 70th. "You are losing your best people," he said. "Period."
Dave Huot, a former district court judge and state representative, reminded the council that "the state of New Hampshire is not innocent in all this" and urged them to "advocate, make a statement." This year, state aid to the school district was reduced by $455,338 to reflect its declining enrollment. At the same time, Huot advised the council to "adjust the tax cap to where it is amenable to the changes taking place."
Councilors did not respond to these statements.
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