No input on spending for 2 schools

NASHUA – Perhaps it was because the meeting was in the middle of the regular workday. Or maybe it was because people didn’t believe their input would be taken seriously.

Whatever the reason, nobody from the public took advantage of the opportunity Monday to give their thoughts on how money should be spent in the high schools next year.

The school department, which makes up the largest portion of the city’s budget, is in the beginning stages of developing its budget for the 2009-10 school year.

The district is working under a budget of $86.3 million this year, which was a 3.3 percent increase from the previous year’s budget of $83.6 million.

The school district uses a program-based budgeting model, breaking up the budget into 14 different programs.

To start the process, a series of meetings were scheduled for this week to give people an opportunity to give their input. Monday was the first meeting, with members of the high school budget development committee ready to listen.

Only problem was, no one showed up.

David Ryan, principal of Nashua High School North, said he was asked to set aside a 2-1/2-hour block for people to come in and give their thoughts. The meeting ran from 2:30-5:30 p.m.

“If people wanted to come and give input, we certainly would have been available,” he said.

There are public input meetings scheduled for today and Wednesday for other departments as well.

Ryan and other members of the committee, which included teachers, administrators, students and other staff members, used the meeting instead to start looking at places to cut.

together several budget packages, some reflecting cuts if funding were reduced and others that reflect holding the line or increasing spending.

Ryan said finding places to cut isn’t an easy task. The high school budget is $10.7 million, including both high schools, and Ryan said about $350,000 is in supplies.

“The rest is $10.3 million in salaries,” he said.

Some of the places the committee was looking for possible cuts were in eliminating extracurricular activities, cutting into Advanced Placement courses for juniors or reducing the Freshman Seminar program.

All of the cuts are hypothetical and would only be implemented if the school board decided to cut funding for the high schools.

Jim Mealey, the district’s chief operating officer, said the district hasn’t received any guidelines from Mayor Donnalee Lozeau yet on what she wants departments to come in at for the next fiscal year.

Lozeau said she would likely do that around the end of December. Last year, she asked all departments to come in within the spending cap, which was 3.3 percent.

Lozeau said an agreement was made when the teachers contract was approved that the school board would submit a budget within the spending cap.

This year’s spending cap has yet to be determined, but Lozeau said in an effort to keep the tax rate low and considering the state of the economy, she may be asking some departments to dig a little deeper.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if I asked some groups to look at coming in at level funding,” she said.

There is a school board budget meeting scheduled for tonight where board members and Superintendent Christopher Hottel will discuss how the district’s goals should be incorporated when developing next year’s budget.

Taking into account previously contracted salaries and other required costs, Mealey anticipated there should be enough to fund each program at the same level for next year and stay within the city’s spending cap.

The committees often come out of the budget development process making legitimate requests for additional costs, but that money has to come from somewhere else, he said.

“If you were to add to one program, it would be at the expense of another,” Mealey said.