To The Daily Sun,
On Tuesday, March 14, Gilford voters will go to the polls to vote on a town and a school budget. The School Board has worked to develop a fiscally responsible budget that supports the operation and maintenance of our schools and a high-quality educational program for our students.
Gilford schools were recently recognized for excellence. Last week, it was announced that Gilford Elementary School made it to the final round of the prestigious School of the Year award offered by New Hampshire Excellence in Education Awards board. At the beginning of the year, the Gilford School District was once again named to the Advanced Placement (AP) District Honor Roll because of the high number of students taking AP classes and exams and students performing well on these exams. Gilford was one of only five New Hampshire schools to receive this award for multiple years. These awards are a testament to the high quality schools in Gilford, the people who work in them, and community support.
The proposed school budget in Article II for this year is $26,019,631. This is $115,937 (or 1.1 percent) higher than the $25,725,629 school budget for 2016-17. Last year, schools operated under a default budget because the voters did not approve the School Board's approved budget.
Last year and this year, there were separate warrant articles that impacted school funding in Gilford. The cost items associated with the school budget appear as separate warrant articles on the ballot so that voters can vote on these items separately and directly. New Hampshire law requires school bonds to be separated from the general school budget so that voters can decide on funding. In 2016-17, a bond to upgrade the electrical, mechanical, and plumbing infrastructure at the Elementary School was passed by the voters. The bond on last year's ballot was for $2,242,646. Because this bond was passed, this work began last year and will continue this summer.
This year, in addition to the proposed school budget warrant article, there are four separate warrant articles related to our schools. By law, collective bargaining agreements have to be voted on as separate warrant articles. Article III would provide a three-year contract for our teachers at a cost of $296,819 in 2017-18 and an average increase of $270,136 for the next three years. This agreement was the result of a collaborative process with the board and teachers. Teachers will receive a modest increase that puts salaries at a more competitive level with other educators in the region. They will also pay a greater share of their health insurance costs. Having a contract for our teachers is important to retain and attract quality teachers in our schools.
Articles V, VI, and VII will establish capital reserve funds for general school maintenance, roofs that will need to be replaced within the next few years, and for technology infrastructure.
Essentially, these warrant articles establish savings accounts for capital improvements that will need to happen over the next few years. It is important to note that if these funds (totalling $167,500) are approved by the voters, they will be funded only if there is a budget surplus this year. No new taxes will be raised to fund these accounts.
If you include the general school budget articles with the other warrant articles connected to schools, the 2016-17 total was $27,968,275. The 2017-18 total is $26,483,950, which is $1,484,325 less than was spent last year.
The process to develop a school budget is lengthy and involved. Thank you to all of the people who worked collaboratively with the board in developing the 2017-18 budget and providing feedback along the way. Our goal was to develop a fiscally responsible budget that supported a quality educational program with consideration for the residents of Gilford and Gilmanton.
For more information on this year's school budget and the ballot that will be issued, please go to www.sau73.org.
Karen Thurston, Chair
Gilford School Board