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School budget up 2.9 percent

RINDGE — The Jaffrey-Rindge School Board recommended an 2013-2014 operating budget of $25,228,851 at a budget hearing on Wednesday. That amount is 2.85 percent higher than last year’s budget, and about half of the $699,000 increase is driven by reduced funding from the state, according to School Board Chair Tom Connolly.

“The state has defunded their contributions to the retirement system,” Connolly said at the sparsely attended hearing. “The obligations are unchanged and the state is passing it on to the local taxpayers.”

The district is budgeting an additional $338,614 for retirement costs, according to a budget summary passed out at the meeting.

The total amount of nondiscretionary increase is $1.35 million, including not just the retirement system hike, but also $229,610 in spending mandated by the teacher’s contract approved in 2012, $262,139 in special educations placements and $167,729 for teacher retirement buybacks.

The board added $42,047 to expand the district’s building trades program. Connolly said demand justified making it a full day and Jaffrey-Rindge can expect some income from other districts that send students to the program.

Overall, personnel costs are expected to be about $122,000 less than the previous year. The district will be eliminating the principal position at Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School, with high school principal John Barth taking on the duties of principal at the middle school as well. The shift is budgeted to save about $104,000 in salary and benefits, according to the worksheet.

“We believe the high school principal can support both schools,” Connolly said. “We will further empower the assistant principals.”

The budget does not include funding for a school resource officer. The job had been dropped when early versions of the budget were prepared, and at a Jan. 7 meeting the School Board voted not to recommend a separate warrant article to fund the job. The savings in salary and benefits will be $76,200.

“Our choices to save money really boiled down to people,” Connolly said about the resource officer position. “We didn’t want to reduce teaching positions. We feel we will be able to keep all our students at the same safety level.”

Board member Dan Whitney noted that the current school resource officer, Chris Anderson, was due to rotate out of the job and return to regular duty at the Jaffrey Police Department.

“We were due to take a look at the job,” Whitney said. “This was the year to have that kind of discussion.”

During discussion of tax rates, Connolly noted that while the local school budgets make up the largest portion of the rate, they have increased less, on a percentage basis, than town tax rates over the last five years.

In Jaffrey, the local school tax rate went up 12.8 percent over the last five years, while the town tax rate went up 14.6 percent. In Rindge, the local school rate went up 12.2 percent and the town tax rate was up 57 percent.

Rick Sirvint, Rindge’s representative on the school district’s budget advisory committee, spoke in support of the budget.

“I think the board has done an excellent job balancing the needs of taxpayers and students,” Sirvint said. “ I will very comfortably support the budget that’s been proposed. It deserves the support of the populace in Rindge and Jaffrey.”

Another warrant article that will appear on the ballot at the Feb. 7 deliberative session calls for voters to approve a two-year contract agreement with the Jaffrey-Rindge Support Staff Association.

The article calls for a $60,901 to fund the first year of the agreement, which would provide an average wage increase of 2.83 percent, for approximately 80 full-time and part-time custodians, secretaries, clerical aids, library associates, information technology technicians and instructional associates.

The board is also recommending eliminating a Building Construction Reserve Fund, established in 2008, and transferring the $232,212 in the fund into the district’s main Capital Reserve Fund.

Other warrant articles call for putting $50,000 in the Special Education Contingency Fund and $100,000 in the Capital Reserve Fund, provided the district has a sufficient budget surplus on June 30.

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