Haverhill Passes School Budget, Building Upgrades

Haverhill — Following some impassioned speeches on both for and against, Haverhill voters approved a school budget of $13.7 million, 66-27 Thursday evening,that includes an increase in spending of less than 1 percent over the current year.

The addition of a half-time language teacher was the line item that drew concern from resident Kevin Shelton. He suggested the district look at eliminating positions, rather than adding one.

School Board member Donald Bazzell defended the staffing decision.

“Schools have become a bit of a business,” he said. “We have to provide a product that people are interested in.”

Shelton urged his fellow voters not to approve the budget in order to encourage the board and administrators to “make the necessary adjustments.” For example, he suggested they explore ways of sharing resources with neighboring districts.

“It is a business,” he said. “There isn’t a business that doesn’t look at their cash flow.”

Parent Michelle Reagan spoke up in support of the district’s staff.

“If we lost them our kids would not be served,” she said.

Select Board chairman Wayne Fortier called for a strategic plan before approving the budget. Such a plan would define “what programs we want and what we can afford,” he said.

Parent Christopher Michal expressed impatience, saying he did not want to wait for such a plan to come to fruition.

“We have qualified teachers in place,” he said. “I’m not willing to sacrifice my kid’s education for something that might rebound.”

By paper ballots, voters also approved one of two articles to fund mandated fire and safety improvements at the Woodsville High School campus, a project they rejected last year.

Residents opted to pay for upgrades to the main building at the high school through a bond for $268,213; beginning with a first year loan payment of $60,240.

The project will include modifying stairwells and doors in order to prevent the spread of smoke in the event of a fire, installing a fire suppression system in the kitchen, replacing fuel tank lines, and adding exterior lighting.

The new lights are intended to improve security, said School Board chairman Richard Guy.

Also by ballot, voters rejected an article which would have provided $123,337 to fund fire and safety improvements to a community building at Woodsville High School.

This article was not supported by the School Board because it is currently investigating the possibility of consolidation.

“By next year at this time, the facilities committee should have a plan for what we’re going to do with all our buildings,” said School Board member Jay Waterhouse. “If you don’t approve this one it’s fine.”

Also on Thursday, voters approved a professional staff contract, including a 3 percent increase in salaries for next year, as well as two other articles to allocate money to building and maintenance and special education funds.

If voters had approved all of the warned spending articles, including the smaller of the two bonds, the tax rate would have increased by $1.88 to $21.37 per $1,000 of assessed value.

In that case, the owner of a $200,000 home would have paid about $4,274 in school taxes, a $376 increase.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.