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School Budget Would Lower Newport Taxes

Deliberative Session Produces Few Changes to Proposed Plan

Newport — A handful of residents, many of whom work for the school district or serve on the Budget Committee, voted to adopt the 10 articles on the school warrant in about an hour after approving just one amendment last night.

The warrant now goes to voters at the annual School Meeting vote March 12.

By a show of hands, residents approved an amendment to reduce from $100,000 to $1 the amount of money recommended by the School Board for the transportation capital reserve fund under Article 7. The money would come from any surplus in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The Budget Committee opposed the article and committee member Jeff Kessler made the amendment, telling the sparse audience that the money would be better served to further reduce the tax rate.

“Now is not the time to put money in a capital reserve fund,” Kessler said.

The transportation fund is used to buy buses, SAU 43 Business Manager Chuck Stuart said. Stuart said the fund now has about $255,000 but the district will soon be looking to replace four buses.

“Can we get by without it ? Yes,” Stuart said. “We can get by for a while, but eventually we will have to replenish the fund.”

Voters last night defeated identical amendments by Kessler on two similar articles to place $100,000 each from any budget surplus in reserve funds for unanticipated special education costs and school renovation.

In support of $100,000 for the school renovation fund, resident Kathy Hubert said the high school will be under accreditation review soon.

“Our facilities are going to have issues,” she said. “We need that rainy day fund.”

The school renovation fund has $404,177 and the special education fund has $321,000.

The proposed budget of nearly $17.8 million has no spending increase from this year and is projected to reduce the tax rate by 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

School Board Chairman Gordon Flint Jr. said the administration answered the charge of the School Board to present a budget with no tax increase and did so in the face of rising costs for retirement and health insurance. Five retirements, three positions which won’t be filled, helped meet the level-funded goal.

“This board and administration are presenting a lean and mean, bare bones budget that meets the educational needs of the district’s approximately 1,000 students,” Flint said, noting that nearly all of the surrounding school districts are proposing tax increases.

Hubert said she appreciated the attention to spending, but worried about the effects of a level-funded budget and the loss of experienced teachers.

“I’m really concerned about how it affects instruction,” Hubert said.

Too much cost cutting ties the hands of those trying to improve instruction, she said, adding that teachers then tend to leave for neighboring districts such as Sunapee, Lebanon and Hanover. Hubert said she wants to ensure the district works to retain teachers who are experienced, yet not close to retirement.

Under article 4, a proposed one-year contract for teachers would cost $65,639 and add 16 cents to the tax rate. Christian McDonald, chairperson of the negotiating team for the union, said the half-step increase would, on average, mean teachers would receive raises between $500 and $600.

Also adopted was $29,353 in article 5 for a one-year support staff contract .

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady43@yahoo.com.