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School Board Calls for Cuts In Lebanon

Vote Sends Administrators Back To the Current Year’s Expenses

Lebanon — The Lebanon School Board Wednesday night directed administrators to cut $1.2 million from their proposed budget of more than $40 million for 2014-2015.

The 5-2 vote at Lebanon Middle School requires the superintendent’s office and school principals to come back to the board on Jan. 8 with a plan to run the schools for the same amount as they’re spending in the current fiscal year — a little more than $39 million. The board will hold its first public hearing on the package on Jan. 15.

“I think there’s a lot of fluff,” board Vice Chairman Bob McCarthy said of the administration’s request for $40.25 million — 3.1 percent more than the current budget — while declining to specify which programs he thinks should be cut.

Joining McCarthy in ordering a new, lower spending package were board Chairman Jeff Peavey and members Christina Haidari, Susan Louzier, and Richard Milius. Voting against the directive were Lori Hibner and Kathleen Berger. Hank Tenney and Doug Preston did not attend the meeting.

The decision came despite Superintendent Gail Paludi’s warning that with a cut of $1.2 million, “Class size could be impacted, along with many other things.” She added that her team also might have to provide fewer kindergarten classes than proposed.

“We need to have kindergarten for children,” Paludi said. “Early intervention is essential.”

Other than wondering aloud whether the district needs to create several new positions in the budget — including an “education technology integrator” to help students and teachers use computers and other digital tools more efficiently in learning — Milius echoed McCarthy’s call for the administration to go back to the drawing board.

“If we have to pick and choose,” Milius concluded, “it’s going to be extremely difficult to come up with a responsible budget.”

The swiftness of the decision surprised and gratified former School Board member Al Patterson, who earlier in the meeting presented a petition, with 155 signatures, urging the board to “keep the taxpayers’ budget the same as 2013 or less.” The signatures included former board Chairman Barry Schuster and former board member Rich Parker.

“I’m sure (the petition) weighed on (the current board) some,” said Patterson, who as a board member last year voted against the 2013-2014 budget. “I didn’t just get people who didn’t know what they were signing. I wanted to get reputable people.”

While presenting the petition, Patterson had repeated his long-held contention that a $2.4-million surplus from the 2012-2013 budget shows that the district can and should not continue to raise more from property taxpayers, despite reminders from the administration that surpluses in recent years have provided a useful cushion against unexpected expenses, including renovations and repairs.

“You need to stop these (budget) increases,” Patterson told the board. “There’s money to be found in the budget we’re in.”

District business administrator James Fenn reminded the board of its decision in July to return about $1.94 million of surplus to taxpayers in the form of adjustments to the tax rate in the fall of 2013. He also noted that surpluses will enable the district to spend $400,000 on overdue renovations and repairs to the gymnasium and locker rooms at Lebanon High School.

Fenn estimated that the request to spend $1.2 million more in 2014-2015 includes “between $500,000 and $610,000 of wages and benefits that are contractual obligations.”

And Paludi said that the district already is obligated to pay $357,000 in bonuses and benefits to 13 teachers and several paraprofessionals who have retired, and that another $25,000 will go to employees whose retirements the board approved Wednesday night.

Berger said she hopes that in making cuts around the district, administrators look first at schools that requested bigger increases than did schools that more closely held the line.

David Corriveau can be reached at dacorriveau@gmail.com and at 603-727-3304.

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