School board asked to reduce budget

NASHUA – Mayor Donnalee Lozeau asked the Board of Education this week to cut $860,000 from the proposed school district budget before she presents it to the Board of Aldermen.

The cut would represent about 1 percent of the $88.5 million budget the school board approved in February. Lozeau had asked all city departments to stay within a 1 percent increase from the previous year.

The budget the school board submitted was about 2.5 percent more than this year’s, exceeding Lozeau’s guidelines by $1.2 million.

Lozeau met with members of the board Wednesday and asked them to consider making further cuts before she presents her proposed city budget to the aldermen April 14.

“The point of my coming in is that I really believe this is a conversation,” Lozeau said Thursday. “It’s not a directive.”

When the board approved its budget proposal in February, several members said it was a spending package representing the minimum of what the district could function on.

That is why Sandra Ziehm, co-chair of the board’s budget committee, said she is concerned about what the possible implications could be of making nearly $1 million in cuts, bringing the budget down to a 1.47 percent increase.

“I think we’re going to have our work cut out for us,” she said Thursday.

The mayor has the authority to change the bottom line of the school department budget before presenting it to the aldermen for final approval.

School board members expected the budget would come back lower than submitted, but Lozeau said she called the meeting because she wanted to give the school board the opportunity to make those cuts.

“I wouldn’t want the mayor to come in and decide what 1 percent is coming out of my budget,” she said.

Ziehm said school board members would be meeting next week to begin discussing how – or if – to make the cuts.

The proposed budget makes some reduction to overall staff, eliminating 33.5 paraprofessionals positions, eight teaching positions, two secretaries and five custodians.

It also includes about $500,000 in new positions: four math/literacy coaches ($182,400), four reading intervention teachers ($182,400), four technical integration specialists ($80,000) and two high school attendance officers ($54,400).

The budget includes contracted wage increases for union employees, including teachers. The cost to pay teachers next year will go up by 6.98 percent, or $3.2 million.

Jim Mealey, the district’s chief operating officer, said the district has not approached the Nashua Teachers’ Union about renegotiating raises for next year.

In the proposed budget, there is also about $500,000 set aside for contracted raises for paraprofessionals, custodians and secretaries.

It also includes 3 percent raises for unaffiliated employees, which includes principals and administrators.

Board member Robert Hallowell had made a motion to reduce those raises to 2 percent, a $77,000 cut. The motion failed, however. Hallowell was the only member of the board not to vote for the budget.

Ziehm said Thursday one area she thinks the board needs to look at for possible cuts is administration.

“I’m not saying those people aren’t great to have, but you have to make hard choices,” she said.

Ziehm wherever the cuts come from, they will likely have an impact on services. That is disappointing, she said, as the district works to improve test scores and get off the state’s list of districts in need of improvement.

“You can’t ask us to bring up the NECAP scores and cut services,” she said.

Superintendent Christopher Hottel had proposed an $88.4 million budget, a 2.36 percent increase, but board members opted to add $93,555 before approving it.

That money would go to toward keeping a floating nurse position that was going to be cut and keeping summer school programs available for middle and high school students.

Under the current proposal, the middle schools would be losing 10 teaching positions overall, but Hottel has said that because of the drop in enrollment, there was room to make the cuts.

The middle schools have had a decrease of 600 students over the past four years, from 3,246 students to 2,633 students.