Laconia School Board wades into new zero-based budget format

By David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun

LACONIA — For next school year, Laconia schools will operate on a budget that starts from scratch, with every spending item explained and justified, according to a new format for budgeting as explained by the budget office.
"You'll see a different budget this year, it will have more information in it regarding specific accounts," said Business Administrator Christine Blouin, speaking to two members of the district's budget and personnel committee.
Committee Chairman Michael Persson and fellow board member Mal Murray received the briefing Thursday as part of a launch of the 2017-2018 budget preparation season.
This year's $32.2 million budget for Laconia schools dropped from $32.7 million in 2015-2016. Adequate Education Aid funding dropped from $10.9 million in fiscal year 2015-2016 to $10.5 million in fiscal year 2016-2017, according to the current school budget (2016-2017). The current year's aid includes $4.463 million in state property tax and $6.052 million in state adequacy aid.
Officials expect further declines in state adequacy aid, which is based largely on enrollment.
Blouin didn't delve into any specific spending estimates for next year — it's too early for that. Rather, she explained a new method of budget preparation that has been in the works since last October.
Descriptions will accompany accounts, and the budget will emerge from a "zero-based" approach.
"I would say by the end of January we should have a good handle on what we're going to be presenting as the first, 'This is what we need in a budget,'" Blouin said.
Persson explained that past years' spending will no longer predicate how the budget is developed.
"Everything that goes into the budget has to be justified based upon the strategic plan, building needs, and they have to be justified, each of the lines as we're going," Persson said. "It's no longer, 'Last year we had $50,000 in this account, and that's probably about right, let's keep that there.' Now it's going to be, if there's $50,000 in that account, this is what it's for."
"Super Saturday," a meeting of district personnel and the public to hash out budget priorities, likely will take place in the second week of March, the committee agreed.
For Super Saturday, Persson recommended a look five years ahead. He said a two-year effort to develop a strategic plan is almost finished, which should inform the school board as it makes priorities in next year's budget.
"From year to year, they will be building the budget from zero-based (budgeting) again, so looking at it downstream, this year is going to take quite a bit of time, there will be quite a bit of effort," he said.
Murray said too many details could confuse the public so he praised a budget that contains justifications for spending but not too many numbers that delve into the financial weeds.
Blouin said the new format will strike a balance.
With teacher salaries, for example, "it will tell you down below, how many FTE's, how many full-time equivalents, how many positions there are, what positions are in there, and how many are grant funded."
Describing the budget format as clearer and more transparent, Blouin said she tried to list as many items as possible under budget lines, "but I also tried to compact it so you're not getting a 70-page document."
Persson said in the area of grant funding, this new approach could alleviate some public confusion.
"When people look at our administrative budget vs. what others' are, it appears that we're top heavy, when in fact we're able to have these positions because of the fact we have the grant funding to be able to do it so I think it's great that we'll have that breakdown," he said.

Pro-pot group: 2017 could be New Hampshire's year

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Recreational use of marijuana has become the law of the land in Maine, while medical marijuana use, as shown here, has a longer history. New Hampshire legislators have killed seven decriminalization bills dating back to 2008, but in the next legislative session, the issue may clear the governor's desk. Officials also foresee a flurry of bills regarding the state's medical marijuana program, which was implemented in 2013. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)

Legislature, new governor poised to decriminalize marijuana


New Hampshire has been a thorn in the side of marijuana-legalization advocates, and a bright spot for those battling to keep the drug illegal amid a flurry of pro-pot ballot measures.
But this year, based on the make-up of the state Senate, legalization advocates expect the New Hampshire Legislature to approve decriminalization, which would reduce marijuana possession from a criminal offense to a violation.
"New Hampshire has lagged behind other states in the region on marijuana policy for many years," said Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, the group which successfully pushed for last year's referendum to legalize pot in Maine.
Simon, who has lobbied for legalization in New Hampshire for about a decade, said, "It's the only state in New England that has not yet decriminalized simple possession. The House has passed decriminalization bills several times dating back to 2008. They have always been opposed by the governor, and they have always been killed in the Senate. That finally changes this year."
For the first time, New Hampshire has elected a governor, Republican Chris Sununu, who, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, "is clearly on record in favor of decriminalizing marijuana possession."
"The make-up of the state Senate, which has killed seven decriminalization bills dating back to 2008, also improved in the 2016 election," the MPP reported. "Several of the worst prohibitionist senators from last session did not seek re-election, and some of the candidates who replaced them have much more enlightened positions on marijuana policy. Now that two neighboring states, Massachusetts and Maine, have legalized marijuana for adult use, New Hampshire appears poised to finally decriminalize possession in the 2017 session."
Eight states have legalized marijuana — Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, California, Maine, Nevada and Massachusetts.
In March 2016, a WMUR Granite State Poll revealed that a majority of state respondents support legalizing marijuana for recreational use. "Sixty-two percent of randomly selected adults supported legalization of marijuana," WMUR reported at the time.
But prominent opponents will continue to push back against the tide of legalization in New England.
Last fall, as Maine voters contemplated the referendum to legalize marijuana statewide, Roman Catholic Bishop Robert P. Deeley cited the "devastating impact felt in Colorado since the commercial sale of marijuana began in January of 2014." A comprehensive report issued by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, Deeley reported, gave evidence that legalized marijuana is a public-safety concern. In the study, marijuana-related traffic deaths increased by 62 percent and marijuana-related hospitalizations increased by over 30 percent in Colorado, the Bishop warned.
Deeley also warned that the use and abuse of marijuana by the youth of Colorado increased by 20 percent since legalization in that state. (The Diocese of Manchester is awaiting the language of bills before commenting on New Hampshire marijuana policy.)
Despite these warnings, voters in Maine approved legalization by a narrow margin. A statewide recount sought by opponents failed to change the outcome. In Maine, marijuana possession and home cultivation will become legal Jan. 30 — the legally required 30 days after certification. Gov. Paul LePage proclaimed the Nov. 8 election results on Saturday, Dec. 31, according to the Marijuana Policy Project in Maine.
Warnings against legalization have gained more traction in New Hampshire. On March 26, 2014, the New Hampshire House voted 192-140 against legalizing one ounce of marijuana for recreational use. At the time, the New Hampshire affiliate for Smart Approaches to Marijuana — a nationwide anti-legalization group — called the vote "a victory for public health advocates across the state." Linda Saunders Paquette, executive director at New Futures, a SAM affiliate, reported, "Full legalization of marijuana would lead to lower work place productivity, expose our children to an increasingly potent substance, and increase the amount of intoxicated drivers on New Hampshire roadways."
The Marijuana Policy Project disputes these and other public-health risks associated with marijuana and argues that opponents rely on scare tactics. But Simon conceded that New Hampshire legislators may not be the first in the nation to legalize marijuana through the legislative process, as opposed to voters approving bills via referendum.
"As far as legalization, it's going to take some time," Simon said. "There is finally going to be a bill that would legalize marijuana, with Senate Democratic leader Jeff Woodburn sponsoring that. Everybody recognizes with the 24 members of the New Hampshire Senate, that's going to be an uphill climb."
"No state has done it through the legislature yet," Simon said, and he said Vermont or Rhode Island could be first rather than New Hampshire.
Decriminalization — the act of removing criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana and replacing them with a civil fine — stands a better chance in New Hampshire, Simon said.

On another front, New Hampshire has been the slowest state in New England to roll out its medical marijuana program, Simon reported, but called 2016 "a big year."
Four dispensaries opened, following a patient's lawsuit against the state spurring the issuance of identification cards. In the next legislative session, Simon expected a flurry of bills to improve the state's medical marijuana program, which was implemented in 2013.


Save it till Labor Day?

Laconia mulls later start to the school year


LACONIA — School officials plan to poll parents and tourism businesses this week to see if the Laconia School District should start its school year later, maybe even after Labor Day.
"Normally it's said in passing, 'I wish we could stay after Labor Day,' so why not check it out?" said Superintendent Brendan Minnihan, explaining the rationale for a possible shift in the schedule.
This school year, staff arrived on Aug. 23, and classes started for students on Aug. 30. Barring delays due to snow days, the school year is scheduled to end Wednesday, June 14, with a teacher workshop scheduled on Thursday, June 15.

Minnihan said he wanted to explore different schedules, based on feedback.
"Most schools in New Hampshire start before Labor Day still. There are some, especially if they have major fairs associated with their towns, that start after Labor Day," Minnihan said.
On Tuesday, Minnihan told the Laconia School Board that feedback to administrators indicated a desire to start later.
If the district resumed its current schedule, dubbed Option A, staff would return on Tuesday, Aug. 22, and students would come back Tuesday, Aug. 29. A second option, dubbed Option B, would stagger the schedule a week later.
"Part of our process is to seek input from others," Minnihan said, "and one of the pieces of input that we received is that the 22nd, 23rd and 24th is pretty early in August for teachers and staff to come back. Could we consider doing the 28th, 29th and 30th, and then have students come back on the 31st and 1st?"
Another option, dubbed Option C, would push the start of school to after the Sept. 4 Labor Day holiday.
"What happens to the calendar if you start after Labor Day, which would end the school year on Monday, June 19?" Minnihan said, posing a rhetorical question to the board.
Board member Mal Murray said, "Before we vote on this, if we're going to change from (Option) A, which is kind of the basic schedule, I think it ought to go to the public." Particularly to push past Labor Day, Murray said, the public should weigh in. "It's a change. To me it's a big change. You're coming back after Labor Day," he said.
School board members Aaron Hayward and Stacie Sirois suggested a hybrid schedule, slightly shifting the dates to late August.
Hayward said the current schedule, if resumed, would bring staff back Tuesday through Thursday, Aug. 22-24, and then students would return Tuesday, Aug. 29.
"That four-day weekend of Friday and Monday is a waste of time," Hayward said.
Instead, he said, staff days could be Thursday, Friday and Monday, Aug. 24, 25 and 28, and school could start on Tuesday, Aug. 29.
"If we were to push that and say Thursday, Friday and Monday were your staff days and then school starts on the 29th, you'd then have a three-day week with kids," he said.
Board member Michael Persson said tourism businesses should have a say in the schedule, especially in the case of a later start.
"It just always struck me that we're in a tourist area, and a lot of these kids, sophomores, juniors and seniors in high school, have summer jobs, and sometimes (when school starts) it's still part of the summer season for a lot of these businesses," Persson said. "It would be interesting to hear what the tourism businesses have to say about whether that's had an impact on them and their willingness to hire our high school students as opposed to bringing people from overseas."
In a post-Labor Day start, a few snow days could force school to run through the end of June, but the tradeoff is students could work through the end of the summer season, Persson said.
Sirois said, "You'd have to find out from the businesses, I guess, whether having kids at the tail end of summer is more important than at the beginning of summer."
Minnihan said he would email the proposals to parents and also send a similar survey to the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce and the Lakes Region Tourism Association.
Minnihan said one wild card is the Huot Technical Center. Four school districts send students to the center, and the district's calendars need to be close to the schedules of the sending schools, he said.

Minnihan said he hoped for a prompt turnaround on survey responses, ideally within the week so a recommendation can be developed for the next school board meeting on Jan. 17.
Anyone with feedback about the district schedule can email Minnihan at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..