Voters have 2 budgets to pick from

When voters attend the Hollis/Brookline Cooperative School District meeting on Wednesday, they will be asked to decide between two proposed school budgets for next year.

The school district’s Budget Committee is asking for a zero-increase budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The School Board is asking for $108,279 more than that. Their proposed budget represents a six-tenths of a percent increase over the current budget of $18,875,795.

The meeting is at 7 p.m. at the high school.

If voters approve the Budget Committee’s zero-increase budget, the School Board will be forced to go back to the table to make cuts, said Tom Enright, School Board chairman.

“We’re mostly likely to take cuts from four categories,” Enright said, adding that the affected areas would be sports, theater, music, clubs, and other non-academic programs, as well as an ongoing computer replacement program, administrative raises, and classroom supplies.

Enright said four areas are primarily responsible for the increase over the current budget, but the board was able to cut them all slightly after the public hearing on the budget earlier this month. The drivers are special education, benefits, transportation and school Administrative Unit assessment, which is the amount the cooperative school district shares with Hollis and Brookline school districts.The school district’s warrant includes two money warrant articles; in addition to the operating budget, there is a $44,000 article to cover increased salary and benefits for support staff.

The proposed increase for support staff would affect about 40 SAU employees who are in the second year of a two-year contract.

Steven Pucci, Budget Committee chairman, said that while the two panels are much closer than they were last fall, the Budget Committee has identified “many areas of opportunity” for savings that don’t affect “the quality of education.”

Pucci said a decision by the School Board last week to increase fees for “co-curricula activities” such as sports and clubs goes against the thinking of the Budget Committee.

“The Budget Committee thinks it’s not necessary to do this to achieve the budget recommendation,” Pucci said.

He said the Budget Committee targeted three areas where the school district could realize additional savings: transportation, expendable supplies such as paper and pencils, and energy costs, including fuel and electricity and energy conservation.

“The School Board has done a nice job bringing it down to where we are today,” Pucci said. But “we believe that more can be done without impacting the quality of education or cutting programs.”