District’s budget exceeds mayor’s limit by $1.2m

NASHUA – The Board of Education finalized its proposed budget for next year Thursday night, settling on a spending package of $88.5 million, a 2.47 percent increase over this year’s budget.

However, there is a good chance the budget will look drastically different once Mayor Donnalee Lozeau and the Board of Aldermen are done with it.

Lozeau has asked all city departments to keep spending for next year within a 1 percent increase. The budget approved by the Board of Education exceeds that by $1.2 million.

Now finalized, the budget goes to Lozeau’s office. After she presents her proposed city budget, aldermen have the final say on how much funding each city department will receive for next year.

The budget passed Thursday night 8-1. Board member Robert Hallowell was the only member to vote against it.

Board members who supported the budget said it is their responsibility to propose a budget that reflects the needs of the school district, not the demands of the mayor.
Board member Jack Kelley said he thought the budget should have been higher, but still voted for it.

“I think we should at least be sending the message to the mayor, aldermen and the rest of the city that this is what the school district needs to operate,” Kelley said.

Superintendent Christopher Hottel had proposed a budget of $88.4 million, a 2.36 percent increase. Last week, the board added $93,555, which will keep a floating school nurse position funded. The $45,600 position had been created as part of this year’s budget.

The rest of the funding will go toward keeping summer school programs available for middle school and high school students, a cost of $46,600.

As the board deliberated changes to the budget over the past week, Hallowell proposed several ways to cut, but all were shot down.

Hallowell said it’s not reasonable to expect this type of increase for next year and said the board made little effort to consider ways to reach the budget request submitted by Lozeau.

Thursday night, Hallowell made another attempt to cut, proposing to reduce raises for unaffiliated employees from 3 percent to 2 percent, which would have saved $77,000.

“I think this is a reasonable reduction to make, given the environment we are in,” he said.

Unaffiliated employees are employees who are not part of a union, including principals and administrators. The salaries are the only wage costs that the board has control over when setting the budget for next year.

The board voted against it, 5-3. Hallowell, along with board members Sandra Ziehm and William Mosher, supported the cut. Kelley, a state representative, said the budget picture for the state isn’t going to get any prettier over the next year. He said it looks like 2010 could be worse than 2009.

If the board cuts raises for unaffiliated employees now, any cuts proposed next year would be magnified, he said.

“It is kind of late in the game to make a chance without them on notice for that,” he said.

Board member Rick Dowd said it would be “grossly unfair” to take money from this group of employees while the unions get larger raises.

“Even at 3 percent, they’re being short changed, with regard to the other groups,” Dowd said.

The budget includes contracted wage increases for union employees, including teachers, who will receive an average of 6.98 percent pay increase for next year when taking into account step increases and raises.

Hallowell said he had other ideas for ways to cut the budget but said he would wait until after the board gets the budget back to propose them. That is when the board will have to make some difficult decisions, he said.

Under the proposed budget, the district will eliminate 33.5 paraprofessionals, eight teachers, two secretaries and five custodians.

There would also be several new positions created, including two high school attendance officers, four high school math and literacy coaches, two speech and language pathologists and four technical integration assistants.

The budget also includes increasing the cost of high school bus passes, from $50 to $65, which will generate $26,340 in revenue.

Last week, the board killed a controversial proposal to eliminate middle school athletics, asking Hottel to work with the athletics department to find a different way to come up with the 4 percent cut to its department.