Parents relieved about budget

NASHUA – School administrators and parents sighed in relief as they got their first look at how the schools fared in Mayor Bernie Streeter’s budget proposal for the 2005 fiscal year.

“Our first reaction was one of relief – that the cuts did not go deeper,” said Mark Conrad, business administrator for the school district.

Streeter cut $861,164 from the school budget passed by the Board of Education, and shifted $600,000 to a different part of the city budget, leaving an $81.6 million budget for the schools.

That makes up more than 40 percent of the $189.6 million proposal delivered to the Board of Aldermen on Thursday.

The city’s schools are slated to see an increase of more than $5 million under Streeter’s plan – a better scenario than earlier this year, when school officials wrestled with trimming their budget to nearly $79 million to meet a mandate from the mayor to level-fund spending.

School board member Rick Dowd said the board “can manage and work through” the cut.

Dowd, chairman of the school board’s Budget Committee, said the board had already reduced Superintendent Joseph Giuliano’s proposal by $1.3 million, so another deep cut would have handcuffed the schools.

For parents, the outcome was very welcomed.

Scores of parents turned up at meetings earlier this year out of fear a neighborhood elementary school could be closed. Schools considered at risk of being locked were Mount Pleasant, Amherst Street and New Searles elementary schools, because they have the smallest enrollments of the city’s 12 elementary schools.

“We’re relieved,” said Kate Prolman, vice president of the Mount Pleasant PTO.

Teachers’ lives won’t be overturned and attention can focus on education where it belongs, she said.

“I’m relieved I don’t need to make changes for my children next year,” Prolman said.

Prolman’s group, along with many other parents, called, e-mailed and wrote letters to city leaders urging them not to close any schools.

“We will stay in touch with all the aldermen,” Prolman said. “They know us intimately. We will hold them accountable.”

During his budget presentation Thursday, Streeter acknowledged the outspoken parents who filled the seats at public meetings.

“The people of our city have spoken loud and clear. And I have heard them,” Streeter said. “Hundreds of people of our city have said that their children, Nashua’s children, are our most valuable asset, our future. I agree.”

Talks between Streeter and his staff and school administrators and board members over the last few months helped clear the deck, according to people involved in crafting the budget.

City officials asked questions and suggested cuts, and school leaders parried with what less money would mean to education.

Everyone involved in the talks had “a sense of urgency of understanding the impact” of school budget cuts, Conrad said.

The discussions were more productive than in the past, he said, adding the cuts suggested by Streeter were aimed at areas that would have the least impact on what goes on in classrooms.

Dowd said there were still disagreements among the group, but overall it was a “very constructive dialogue.”

Streeter recommended precise cuts to the school budget, in contrast to previous years where he just cut the bottom line.

The three largest cuts were aimed at $250,000 in the curriculum development program – one-third of the total amount – as well as $135,000 in the allocation of school supplies and materials, and $86,400 in the deferred maintenance program.

The cuts can only be a short-term fix, Conrad said, otherwise the education system would feel the pinch.

He said the school system can make do for one year, but next year will ask to make up those cuts, on top of other needs.

Dowd said losing a third of the curriculum development budget is not a good place to save money, but for one year it might be something the school board can live with.

Andrew Nelson can be reached at 594-6415 or