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Column: The facts behind the ConVal budget

Why should you support the ConVal School District’s budget? School budgets are the foundation that provides your children with the necessary skills, experiences, and opportunities for college and career readiness. When you think about the budget, you need to do more than think about numbers. Here are some facts to consider and to help tune out the negative noise swirling around.

Fact: The budget was developed to support the district’s shared goal of being a High Performing District, a goal that many taxpayers have said is important. If we achieve that goal it means ConVal will be ranked in the top 10 of New Hampshire school districts by 2015 in areas such as reading, math, Advanced Placement offerings, drop-out rates, and post-secondary acceptance rates. These are critical areas that need to be fully funded, supported and protected. If the default budget were adopted, these efforts would be in danger of being underfunded.

Fact: 92.3 percent of the budget covers fixed costs and the district has little to no control over these expenses. Some examples of fixed costs are: salaries and benefits, contractual obligations, legal and contractual requirements, transportation, insurance, utilities and debt service.

Fact: The 7.7 percent of the budget that covers discretionary costs, those within in the district’s control include curriculum, professional development and salaries and benefits for newly created positions, building support services, supplies, and equipment. The School Board did everything it could to manage this part of the budget by removing items deemed not critical to support our goals.

Fact: After a multi-month process, the increase over the previous year’s budget has been pared down to 2.65 percent. That process included assessing programs, projects and various line items to determine how to most effectively use limited resources.

Fact: All New Hampshire school districts are facing two significant financial challenges from the state that directly impact local tax rates. The state has pushed down to the district significant cost obligations for funding the NH Retirement System and it has cut back on grant money to local districts, a primary revenue source. If you factor out these two items, the 2013-14 budget is up only 0.9 percent. Can anyone claim that 0.9 percent increase is too much? If so, point the finger toward Concord, not ConVal.

Fact: ConVal has a nationally recognized food service program that provides our children with affordable, nutritious meals that meet federally mandated requirements. This program has been continually evaluated for efficiency and, at this time, the School Board believes it should not be outsourced to save money. Outsourcing could mean our employees would lose benefits in order to realize marginal gains for the district. Do you think this would be fair? The board did not.

Fact: ConVal has a five-year curriculum development program that critically evaluates courses of study and implements the most relevant, research-based education programs available. Our budget supports that program. Investments in curriculum are not just expenses; they are investment in our children and include preparation for the Common Core State Standards.

Fact: The health insurance package we offer our employees is part of a four-year ConVal Education Association contract, which was negotiated in good faith by the School Board and the union and supported by you, the voters. Any changes in health insurance coverage must be re-negotiated as part of contract talks. The cost of health insurance is expensive and keeps increasing.

Fact: The district no longer covers 100 percent the premium costs. The Board has requested competitive proposals from insurance carriers but, due to the complex and widely varied plans currently offered, very few companies were interested. The Board and union are committed to look for efficiencies in the future.

What do our children receive if voters support the 2013-14 budget as proposed?

You will invest in district wide full-day kindergarten that many residents say is both wanted and needed. You will provide funding for much-needed technology upgrades, a critical part of a five-year technology plan designed to ensure our children have up-to-date technology that supports learning. You will fund an additional elementary school nurse who is critically needed to address the ever-growing number of medically fragile students in our elementary schools. Also, there is a need to provide an elementary health teacher to support the ever-growing curriculum requirement for health education in the lower grades. And you also fund the Arts Enrichment Program.

We hope that you choose to invest in our children and our community by supporting the budget. If not, the default budget, which is $616,494 less than the proposed budget, will be adopted, and the Board will have to decide which programs, positions and projects will need to be eliminated or delayed.

In order to meet the default budget target, an assessment of positions will be completed and cross-district elimination of positions will be made, both in the classroom and in support areas. Funding will likely be withdrawn for full-day kindergarten. The technology plan could be suspended for a year. Our ability to meet the increasing needs of medically fragile students might be compromised. Additionally, funding for the Arts Enrichment Program will be jeopardized again.

So based on the facts, please vote ‘Yes’ on Question 1. Make your vote an investment in our students, your community and the future of ConVal.

Stewart Brock is a Francestown representative on the ConVal School Board.

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