Lebanon Voters Set School Budget Plan
During the deliberative session held in Lebanon, N.H, on Feb. 1, 2014, Terrill Salter, of West Lebanon, N.H., offers an amendment to the Lebanon School District's budget to fund a kindergarten teacher position at the Mount Lebanon School. The $79,250 increase was defeated, 15-14, by those in attendence. There are 9,178 voters in the district. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »
Steve Silver, of West Lebanon, N.H., asks why the $29,000 increase in the Lebanon School District's budget over its $39,025,633 default budget was not itemized during the deliberative session held in Lebanon, N.H., on Feb. 1, 2014. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »
Lebanon School Board Chairman Jeff Peavey and Superintendent Gail Paludi listen to a voter's question during the deliberative session held in Lebanon, N.H., on Feb. 1, 2014. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »
Lebanon — A motion to add $79,000 to the proposed school budget failed by one vote, 15-14, at Saturday’s annual deliberative session, leaving the spending plan that will appear on the March 11 ballot at just over $39 million.
The motion was made by resident Terrill Salter, who wanted the money for an additional kindergarten teacher at Mount Lebanon School because of increasing enrollment. She said there are about 20 students in three classes now, an increase in the average class size of five over the last two years.
“It could continue going up,” said Salter, who noted that the School Board had cut $79,000 during its budget review for the position.
Before the vote was tallied, School Board Chairman Jeffrey Peavey said the board did not have to add the money if it was approved nor did it have to spend it on Salter’s specific request; it would just add to the bottom line.
The proposed budget represents a decrease from the current year of $187,800. That includes a decrease of $118,000 in food services and grants, neither of which affect the tax rate. The general fund budget is down $69,000.
Superintendent Gail Paludi explained some of the staff additions at the elementary schools, including a classroom teacher at Hanover Street School, where there is a $191,000 increase in total staffing costs from this year. There was a reduction of those same costs at the high school and middle school. Higher health and dental insurance costs are also contributing to the nearly $700,000 increase in the general education portion of the budget. That rise is more than offset by decreases in special education, co-curricular activities and guidance service.
Resident Susany Almy, a state representative, asked why staff is being added when enrollment is decreasing.
Business Administrator Jim Fenn said while enrollment in the district has fallen the last five years by about 65 students to just under 1,700, officials don’t expect that trend to continue.
“We are seeing an increase at the elementary level but not enough to offset the decrease (overall,)” Fenn said, adding that by 2018, enrollment is expected to return to what it was five years ago.
Paludi also said most of the staff increases are at the elementary level.
Despite the spending decrease, the budget is projected to add $1.43 to the school tax rate because of a significant drop in non-tax revenues. For the current year, $2.2 million from the fund balance and $851,000 from the sale of the old junior high school were used to offset the amount to be raised by taxes. For next year, just $250,000 will come from the fund balance. Also down is state aid ($224,000). The default budget is $30,000 lower than the proposed budget.
Article 3 seeks $163,000 to add a world language program in the elementary schools and article 4 would add a math specialist at the elementary level for $79,000. Combined, they would add 13 cents to the local school rate and, with the budget, bring the estimated local tax rate for next year up $1.56 to $13.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The state education rate is expected to remain at $2.48.
Board member Christsina Haidari said world language is offered at the middle school and high school and they have been working on adding it for grades K-4 since 2010.
In response to comments from two residents who were in support of the concept but wanted more details, Haidari said there would be two teachers with three classes about 20 minutes each and the language could also be incorporated into other classes, such as math. One language will be taught, but the board has not decided what it will be.
The math specialist would be shared between the elementary schools and focus on both struggling students and those who are excelling, the board said. A few spoke in support of the article, including Bill Lynn, who is in the engineering field with Hypertherm. Lynn said emphasizing math at this grade level is key because middle school is when students start to fall behind in math.
“I think this is a very important choice were a making here,” said Lynn.
Article 5 would take $400,000 from the unreserved fund balance at the close of the current fiscal year on June 30 and place it in the building capital reserve fund, but only after the first $250,000 from any fund balance is used to lower the tax rate.
School Board member Hank Tenney said for the coming year they have proposed using about $900,000 of the current capital reserve fund of more than $1.2 million for several projects, including $580,000 for repairs to the Lebanon High School gym and locker room. Tenney said they can put the money in the reserve fund only if there is a balance.
“It only accumulates money when there is an unreserved balance at the end of the year,” he said.
Article 6 would allow the school district to retain a percentage of unassigned general funds at the end of the current fiscal year to be used to either reduce the tax rate or pay for emergencies approved by the state Department of Education.
There were no comments on either article 5 or 6. Turnout was more than 50 at the start of the meeting at 9 a.m. but about half of those left after the board recognized several retiring staff members with resolutions and plaques. Less than 1 percent of the city’s 9,178 registered voters stayed for the entire one hour and 45 minute session.
There are three, three-year terms on the School Board up for election in March. Incumbents are Kathleen Berger, Bob McCarthy and Richard Milius. Residents have until Feb. 11 to file as a candidate.
Patrick O’Grady can be reached at email@example.com.
Lebanon School Board member Bob McCarthy is one of three incumbents whose three-year seat is up for election in March. His first name was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.