Litchfield voters keep kindergarten funds
LITCHFIELD – Litchfield voters still support kindergarten, although with perhaps less enthusiasm once it comes to paying for it.
Voters at the school district’s deliberative session Saturday turned down, by 44-26, a proposal to strip $322,000 from the budget that voters will consider March 10.
The deliberative session for Litchfield’s town budget is Saturday, Feb. 7.
The proposal to cut kindergarten funds would have amounted to only token resistance, since New Hampshire law requires school districts to offer kindergarten. Cutting the money would only force school officials to cut other programs, school board Chairman Dennis Miller told the audience at Campbell High School.
“If we don’t implement kindergarten, we’re in violation of state law,” he said, adding that school board members had sworn an oath to, among other things, uphold the law.
Kindergarten was one of several reasons why the total proposed $20,727,636 school district budget is up 3.8 percent from the current year, business administrator Steve Martin said.
>>Town Meeting ‘09<< ncreased contributions to the state employees retirement fund and repairs to Griffin Memorial School, both of which also are required by law, account for other major increases, Martin said. Voters also approved increased spending to fund a new three-year teachers contract, which would give teachers a 2.5 percent annual raise, plus step raises or longevity bonuses. The district's only new position isn't a teacher, but a part-time receptionist, who won't get health insurance or other benefits. Although the contract drew some questions, kindergarten was the main point of discussion during the nearly two-hour meeting, with several residents asking why the district couldn't join Hudson in suing the state for an unfunded mandate. The state has offered to pay kindergarten costs for three years, but after that, local districts are on their own. Litchfield voters approved the idea of kindergarten several years ago, however, and although they were told at the time the vote was non-binding, it now would stop the district from suing, Miller said. Several residents spoke in fa Several residents spoke in favor of funding kindergarten, however, and one noted that suing isn't all that great, either. "It's always better to pay teachers than lawyers," he said. Peter Moore, of Deerwood Drive, argued it would be "disingenuous" to cut the money for kindergarten, knowing the district would just have to cut elsewhere. "There are eight towns in this entire country that don't have kindergarten, and I find it disturbing that we are one of them," Moore said, though there actually are 12 towns lacking kindergarten, all in New Hampshire, said state Rep. Lynne Ober, who attended the meeting as a nonvoter. Fighting kindergarten would only cost the town in the long run, said Philip Reed, of Forest Lane. "It's either pay me now or pay me later, and pay me later always costs more," Reed said. While the state will cover the cost of leasing portable classrooms for kindergarten, Miller said the district will have to start building some classrooms - the state will cover three-quarters of construction costs - or absorb the leasing in the future. Litchfield doesn't plan to bus kindergartners, so transportation costs won't increase, he said. Kindergarteners will be able to ride the regular morning and afternoon buses, but parents will have to pick up morning session students and drop off afternoon session students themselves. The new teachers contract, if approved, would cost the district several hundred dollars more in each of the next three years, but the teachers agreed to higher co-payments, which helps to keep health insurance increases lower, Miller said. Voters will be asked to approve $451,354 for next year; the amount originally reported was about $6,000 higher because of an accounting error, Miller said. With little discussion, voters also approved warrant articles to let the treasurer pick a deputy; to continue to report vote tallies of the school board and budget committee on warrant articles; and to let the school district put up to $50,000 from any leftover funds into a sort of rainy day fund for unexpected special education costs. If the budget and other warrant articles are approved by voters March 10, they would add $1.08 to the tax rate, currently $10.32 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That would mean a $324 increase on the tax bill for a house valued at $300,000. More detailed information on the school district budget and copies of all the documents handed out at the meeting can be found on the school district's Web site, www.litchfieldsd.org.