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ConVal responds to default budget calculation

ConVal School District officials responded Thursday to a lawsuit charging the district with miscalculating the default budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. In a preliminary answer to the petition filed by former School Board representative Gail Cromwell, Attorney Dean Eggert of the Manchester law firm of Wadleigh, Starr & Peters said the default budget had been properly calculated in accordance with state statute.

The default budget is the amount that would go into effect if the proposed budget is rejected by voters at the polls. According to New Hampshire statute, the default budget, which is used when a town or school district operates under the official ballot system, is calculated using the amount of money appropriated in the operating budget for the previous year, reduced or increased by debt service, contracts, and other obligations previously incurred or mandated by law, and reduced by one-time expenditures in the previous year’s budget.

The ConVal School District warrant calls for a gross operating budget of $45,448, 301. The default budget number in the warrant is $44,831,807. Cromwell’s petition contends that the default budget number should be $445,977 less, at $44,385,830.

Eggert wrote that Cromwell misunderstood the manner in which the default budget was calculated when she contended that the district should have reduced the prior year’s operating budget by $267,198 that she said were reduction in force figures.

“That sum does not represent reduction in force figures,” Eggert wrote. “Instead, this amount represents positions that were added during the 2012-2013 school year and that represent continuing contractual obligations.... In calculating the default budget, the school board reduced the 2012-2013 operating budget by the amount of $985,565, less the new positions, resulting in a net reduction in force number of $718,367. ... Before the petition was filed, the district’s business administrator, Marian Alese, met with [Cromwell] and identified the sum that represented these continuing contractual obligations.”

The district’s preliminary answer also disputed Cromwell’s contention that the default budget should be reduced by $178,779, calculated by adding the amounts from specific line items where the 2013-2014 proposed budget showed amounts lower than the previous year.

“[Cromwell] has engaged in an accounting error by selectively identifying the subcategories within the general object categories in the line-by-line budget without considering the net impact,” Eggert wrote. “In addition, [Cromwell] has failed to consider the impact of the proposed budget’s non-passage on whether a continuing obligation is eliminated from the default budget.”

The preliminary answer also noted that Cromwell’s petition “will be rendered moot” if the operating budget is approved on March 12.

On Wednesday, Cromwell said a hearing on her petition has been scheduled for March 5 in Hillsborough Superior Court North in Manchester.

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