Nashua mayor says education is a priority for the city
NASHUA - Despite criticism from Alderman Richard Dowd at Wednesday's Board of Education budget meeting Wednesday night, Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said her guideline that all city departments, including the school district, limit annual spending increases to 1 percent is for the good of the city.
Lozeau said she doesn't believe the School Board or Dowd thinks she would do anything to harm students even though Dowd told board members not to worry about the 1 percent guideline.
"I am sure Alderman Dowd thought that in the best of ways," Lozeau said.
Lozeau also disagreed with Dowd on whether she should influence the school district's budget process while it is ongoing, saying that as mayor her single largest responsibility is bringing in the city budget.
"Of course I'm trying to influence the budget process - that is my job. It is not a matter of influence, but how you influence. I spent over an hour talking to the School Board at a meeting before the budget process began," Lozeau said.
Board member Sandra Ziehm called the 1 percent cap "a misplaced prioritization" and said the School Board should not "succumb to pressure" from the mayor.
Lozeau said the 1 percent increase limit is more of a guideline. The school district budget has usually come in over 1 percent in the past, she said, and she has never cut the budget presented to her. As it stands, the district's proposed $97 million budget is 1.8 percent over the current budget.
Lozeau said she is happy to see that the School Board has already cut $200,000 from the proposed budget, but members need to understand what the city is up against.
"It is not OK for them not to take the rest of the city into consideration," she said. "We are all in this together."
As an example of the financial difficulties facing the city, Lozeau said that under Nashua's spending cap limit, the city's budget for next year can increase a maximum $5 million and $3.7 million is already earmarked for increased retirement costs for city employees.
Because the state has cut its portion of funding for municipal employees' retirement, Lozeau said the city has only $1.3 million in increases to divide among every city department and division.
"I always bring the budget in under the spending limit to leave some flexibility," Lozeau said.
In response to Dowd's statement that many city department's will not come in under her 1 percent guideline, Lozeau said, "I can say that the majority of city departments will meet the 1 percent guideline."
She added that in her five years as mayor, she has worked hard to make all city departments, including the school district, understand that every dollar spent has a consequence.
"What departments do we cut to give others more money?" Lozeau asked.
Lozeau also disagreed with Ziehm, who said during Wednesday's meeting that education is clearly not a priority to the city.
"Here is the bottom line: For all the years I have been in office, I have been able to work successfully with the School Board. I have never asked them to do anything I thought would be detrimental to education. Education is a priority in this city," Lozeau said.