School spending plan ready for next step

>>Town Meeting ‘09<< MERRIMACK - After a couple of technical difficulties connecting with a colleague in Florida, the school Budget Committee made short work of signing off on next year's $63.6 million budget and sending it to the School Board for final approval. In less than an hour, the Budget Committee reduced the overall budget by $20,000, at the School Board's request, held a public hearing and unanimously approved the budget. Budget Committee member Carol Lang joined the meeting via speakerphone. After Chairman Stan Heinrich accidentally hung up on her once, Lang said she had trouble hearing other members of the committee. The final number, $63.6 million, is about 883,000, or 1.4 percent, above this year's budget. If estimates for the state aid of $953,000 are accurate, the proposed budget and articles wouldn't increase the district's tax rate of $11.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, according to Business Administrator Matt Shevenell. That would mean the owner of a home valued at $300,000 would pay $3,450 in school property taxes. Only a half dozen people attended, and none approached the microphone to comment on any aspect of the spending plan. "My thought is we must be doing a good job because we don't have a ton of people here to complain," Heinrich said. "Three years ago, we wouldn't have been out of here before 10 or 11 o'clock." Health insurance, retirement costs, increases to the teachers and transportation contracts and rate increases for out-of-district special education placements are driving the increase, administrators said. The budget also includes $150,000 to replace computers in an 8-year-old computer lab, $99,000 for a new library automation system, and $85,000 to staff programs that target at-risk kids. The $20,000 was removed Tuesday night because bids to replace the high school's roof came in lower than expected, Shevenell said. The warrant also includes two spending articles. One is $287,936 in salary and benefits for the support staff union, which includes custodians, mechanics, paraprofessionals, assistants, tutors and food service workers. The one-year deal includes a 3.75 percent pay increase, which is offset by a 1 percent increase in employee health-insurance contributions, Heinrich said. The other money article is $150,000, or 50 percent of the end-of-year surplus, whichever is lower, for a roofing repair fund. The school board will take another look at the spending plan on Feb. 16, but the budget committee’s recommendation is what voters will consider at deliberative session on March 3, according to Heinrich. Voting day is April 14.