Voters nix $1M budget cut

Teacher contract would cost district $225,317 more

RINDGE — An attempt to amend the budget down by $1 million failed by ballot vote at the Jaffrey-Rindge School District’s deliberative session Friday night, leaving the budget at its originally proposed $26,019,402, with a default budget of $25,541,923. Of the proposed operating budget, $16,316,025 is to be raised by local taxes, compared with $14,654,977 last year.

The proposed budget is up 3 percent, with increases attributed to upgrading the math program at a cost of $55,421, expanding the Internet infrastructure at the high school, and upgrading technology equipment for $205,000. Insurance premiums are slated to go up to $207,738, a 7.1 percent premium increase.

Rindge Select Board member Roberta Oeser proposed to amend the budget to $25,019,402, saying the budget had enough padding to support the cut.

“The proposed budget is a huge increase. It’s 10 percent,” she said of the increase that will have to be raised by taxes. “I believe the proposed budget is more than taxpayers can afford,” Oeser told the School Board and the packed Rindge Memorial School gymnasium.

Patty Hoard Liebman of Jaffrey, a teacher in the district, said she was not in favor of the amendment. “This is going to immediately affect the education you can expect,” she said. “Don’t do anything, I beg you, to impact that.” Hoard Liebman said that eliminating teacher positions would be one of the ways the district would account for the cuts, if the budget does not pass.

The amendment failed in a 81 yes, 92 no ballot vote. A recount of the vote resulted in the same count.

Aside from the budget, another significant article before voters this year is the teacher’s contract. The contract calls for $225,317 in increases in salaries and benefits at the current staffing levels. The contract would affect 165 teachers, nurses and specialists, including counselors. That constitutes a 2.26 percent increase in average salary. The effect of the teacher contract on the Rindge tax rate would be 21 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, and 24 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on the Jaffrey tax rate. The contract also establishes a team to address a teacher evaluation system, which would be put in place in August.

Article four on the ballot seeks permission for the district to call an additional special meeting to address the teacher contracts, should the contract fail at the polls.

The district is asking for $200,000 from the district’s fund balance to shore up capital reserve funds for reconstruction and repair of buildings and capital equipment. Currently, the reserve has $624,000, but the district will be dipping deeply into that fund for multiple capital improvement projects in 2014 and 2015. Among the projects are a $44,000 walkway at Rindge Memorial School, installing double wall piping in the district’s underground storage tanks for $10,000; doing site surveys at Jaffrey Grade School and the Middle and High School for $8,000, and replacing a roof on one of the modulars at Conant High School for $4,000.

Other improvements the district is proposing but that have not been approved include singling roofs at the grade schools, which could cost $120,000, continuing to update the underground storage tanks for another $120,000, addressing drainage at Rindge Memorial School for $100,000 and improving securing at Rindge Memorial School for $80,000.

All together, these improvements will leave $138,000 in the capital reserve fund for capital repairs. The $200,000 would help to replenish the fund. The $200,000 would come from any excess funds left over from the previous year’s budget and would not affect the tax rate.

Oeser pointed to this article as a sign that the district was over-budgeting, and then using the excess to supply capital reserves, instead of giving it back to taxpayers. Voters are more likely to approve it, because it does not affect taxation. “It says there’s no tax increase to the budget. But you paid it last year,” she said. “It should go back to the taxpayers.”

Robert Stephenson of Jaffrey asked if the district typically had excess funds. When School Board Chair Dan Whitney replied that it did, Stephenson said that did seem like over-budgeting.

Whitney replied that, generally, the district lands within 3 percent or so of their budget, which is a reasonable expectation for a business.

Another article that would be funded by fund balance is a $50,000 request that could be put towards purchasing property adjacent to the schools, should any become available before 2020.

Two articles were submitted by petition this year. One would reinstate a school resource officer, for a cost of $80,000. Alison Bergeron of Jaffrey told the board that she thought that the district’s decision to discontinue the resource officer program last year was a mistake, since there has been less community education and communication.

“It’s one of the most effective tools we have for preventing violence in our schools,” she said.

Rick Sirvint of Rindge disagreed. “I oppose this,” he said. The district has multiple schools, and only one officer could not possibly offer the kind of protection being suggested, he said.

The second petition article would raise $22,000 to start a interscholastic hockey program. The article would start a revolving fund to support the team, which would be funded by receipts at hockey events. The intention of the team is to be self-supporting.

Sirvint said he also opposed this petition. “In a perfect world, this would be good,” he said. “But there has to be a limit between what’s desirable and what’s necessary. Special education is necessary. A hockey team is not.”

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