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Lebanon: Two New Members Elected to School Board

  • Lebanon City Counselor Nicole Cormen, left, and Lebanon School Board candidate Suzan Louzier show that umbrellas and rain gear played important roles outside the Ward 2 polls in yesterday’s balloting. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Lebanon City Counselor Nicole Cormen, left, and Lebanon School Board candidate Suzan Louzier show that umbrellas and rain gear played important roles outside the Ward 2 polls in yesterday’s balloting. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Lebanon School Board candidate Doug Preston stands outside the Ward 3 polls yesterday morning. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Lebanon School Board candidate Doug Preston stands outside the Ward 3 polls yesterday morning. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kristin McGee, center, laughs while she and her daughter, Julia, talk with Doug Preston yesterday. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Kristin McGee, center, laughs while she and her daughter, Julia, talk with Doug Preston yesterday. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Lebanon City Counselor Nicole Cormen, left, and Lebanon School Board candidate Suzan Louzier show that umbrellas and rain gear played important roles outside the Ward 2 polls in yesterday’s balloting. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Lebanon School Board candidate Doug Preston stands outside the Ward 3 polls yesterday morning. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Kristin McGee, center, laughs while she and her daughter, Julia, talk with Doug Preston yesterday. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

— Voters yesterday passed the school budget by a relatively small margin and ushered in two self-described conservatives to the School Board, neither of whom have ever held public office, while ousting one incumbent and re-electing another.

Lebanon natives and political newcomers Suzan Louzier and Doug Preston received the most votes of any of the four candidates running for three seats, with Louzier netting 725 votes and Preston receiving 712, according to preliminary results from the city clerk’s office made available last night. One-term incumbent Christina Haidari finished third with 612 votes, and two-term incumbent Al Patterson lost with 559 votes. All three of the seats are three-year terms.

Patterson, who had served both a three-year and a one-year term, said last night he felt it was “beneficial that the board has a change” and added that Lebanon voters “got what I hope are some good conservatives in there.”

As for why the vote might have turned against him, Patterson said, “The big part of it is, I shook it up.

“I was not one to just give teachers whatever they wanted,” he said. “I fought for the taxpayers to make sure we didn’t just blindly give raises to the teachers.”

The $37.6 million school budget, which was approved by a vote of 642-438, will add $1.06 per $1,000 of valuation to the school tax rate. Pay raises will total $661,000 under the teachers contract, which will add 38 cents to the tax rate, along with 3 cents being added to the tax rate from the contracts for secretaries and administrators. All three contracts were approved last night by similar ratios to the budget vote.

All told, the budget and the contracts will add $1.47 per $1,000 of assessed value to the school tax rate, an increase that will raise the annual property taxes of a home assessed at $250,000 by $368.

School Board Chairman Hank Tenney last night said that the vote showed that the community was willing to deal with tax increases in order to support education, but he also cautioned that the voter turnout — about 1,000 people — was “very low” compared with the number of eligible voters in the city. There are 9,225 registered voters in Lebanon. “The people who wanted to pass the budget are the ones who came out,” said Tenney.

Louzier last night said she was happy to have received the most votes, “but it’s also a huge responsibility.”

She described “fairness in our taxation and making sure the people at our school are accountable” as two main priorities for her in the next three years.

Like Tenney, Louzier pointed to the low turnout, which she said was disappointing. As for whether she was pleased that the budget passed, Louzier said, “Frankly, I have reservations about that.”

While more than 600 voted in favor of the budget, Louzier said, “I think we have to be very careful and realize that just because we can afford another $400 or $500 a year, doesn’t mean that everybody can.”

“People are getting taxed out of this city,” she said. “I certainly believe in educational funding, I do. I want our kids to be offered everything that can be offered to them. But at some point you’ve got to creatively figure out how to make things better without throwing money at the issues and the problems as the answer.”

Two articles that would authorize the school district to sell the former junior high school on Bank Street and place the $851,000 from the sale in a capital reserve fund for the construction and renovation of school buildings passed by healthy 4-1 majorities.

At the polls yesterday, Joan Nierenberg sympathized with those now on the board who have been through this year’s budgetary process. Nierenberg served on the board for more than a decade, most recently in 2005.

An anticipated reduction of more than $400,000 in state aid for next year’s budget, along with a 25 percent increase in employer contributions to the state retirement plan, expected to cost about $466,000, are both hitting the district in the next budget year. Nierenberg described the retirement increase as “huge” and said it, combined with the declining state aid, made planning for the budget “almost impossible, if you want to keep your programs as strong as Lebanon has historically done.”

“As far as the (state aid) is concerned, that changes, it seems, on a whim,” she said. “And you can’t build a budget on a whim.”

In an effort to maintain the district’s student-to-teacher ratios, several positions were added, for a total of $817,000 in new wages.

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