March 14. 2013 10:00PM

Nashua board balks at adding to budget

By Benjamin C. Klein
Union Leader Correspondent

NASHUA - The Board of Education on Thursday night voted against a $100,000 proposal to create two assistance councilor positions for the Elm Street School and Pennichuck Middle School to address problems in discipline.

During a budget meeting that was preceded by a public hearing, board member Kimberly Muise said the impetus for her proposal came from teachers, administrators and even students who have told her about discipline problems in classrooms. She said that when she analyzed discipline data for the last few years, she saw a large increase in the number of suspensions in the high schools and middle schools.

"Unless our children's needs are being met, it is very hard for them to achieve academically. Across the nation, it is very hard for children to block everything out and study in school. There is so much, YouTube, family issues, struggles with money, so much in today's American families that children face every day. Add bullying, gender identity issues, body self image, there are a wide variety of issues, and guidance councilors are overpacked," Muise said.

Resident Jeff Kleiner voiced support for Muise's proposal during the public hearing.

Kleiner said that he moved his children from the Philadelphia area about 10 years ago when his ex-wife died, and that without student assistance councilors in the Manchester School District, his daughter, who was in sixth grade at the time, might never have come out of the dark place she was in.

But during the budget meeting, board President Robert Hallowell said his trepidation against the proposal was telling school administrators how to address a problem instead of allowing them to handle it themselves. He added that while he thought the positions seemed to have value, an opinion echoed by Superintendent Mark Conrad, Hallowell said, "the challenge is money isn't free."

Hallowell also pointed out that just the night before $100,000 was cut from the budget for books.

"Not everyone around this horseshoe believes we should put in services to replace the money we cut," Hallowell said.

Muise's proposal failed after the board's vote ended in a 4-4 tie.

Board member Elizabeth Van Twuyver's proposal for more than $40,000 for a reading specialist to help children with literacy problems failed as well.

The board also got into a discussion about student fees for athletics, with board member Dennis Ryder proposing to raise income from athletics by $25,000 to $175,000.

Muise said she would oppose the motion, saying she believed that athletics constitute a well-rounded education for students, and that she didn't want to punish and take away athletics from disadvantaged children.

"I don't know why my tax dollars should go to something not legally mandated," Ryder said.

Board member Thomas Vaughan responded that raising fees might reduce revenue raised because the exorbitant cost of participating in athletics might cause fewer children to participate.

It was also brought to Ryder's attention that the $150,000 projected revenue from athletic fees is a projection, and that usually the amount raised is higher than $150,000.

Ryder's attempts to have the fees recalculated to bring in more revenue failed.

The lone successful motion of the night to alter the budget belonged to Hallowell, who put forward a successful motion to reduce the phone budget by $25,000 because a new telecommunications contract just signed expected to save the district $27,000.

Earlier in the night, Nashua Teacher's Union President Bob Sherman warned the board that large cuts to the budget could undermine the district's ability to hire qualified teachers.

He said that if the district continues to freeze or reduce teacher salaries, the district would have an increasingly difficult time attracting top teachers.

"Teachers feel overwhelmed with everything they have to do every day," Sherman said.

He said that actions by the previous state Legislature passed down a lot of costs to school districts, making the mayor's request for only a 1 percent annual budget increase very difficult.

At $97,474,300, the proposed budget is still 1.84 percent over the current budget.

The next budget meeting will be on Tuesday, March 19.