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School district officials scramble to fix budget gap

BRISTOL - Amid numerous calls and emails from concerned parents, Newfound Area School District officials reached out Tuesday to state lawmakers, including Gov. John Lynch, asking for help to solve the district's just-discovered $885,000 budget gap.

Last week, school officials found out they no longer hold the $700,000 budget surplus from last year, as Department of Revenue officials had followed a state law that restricting use of a surplus in a school district with a tax cap.

Voters approved a 2 percent school district cap last March.

"The net result is that this (surplus) money is applied to reduce the actual amount to be raised in taxation in the current year," district officials said in a message to parents Tuesday.

"In essence, while the district approved and agreed to raise $11.6 million, a $700,000 discount is applied, and only $10.9 million will be raised. "With the implementation of the tax cap, this is the number that is forced to become the basis for next year's budget."

School officials included a $185,000 reduction in state aid in the amount.

"The end result is that the school board has to reduce a total of $885,000 (from the coming budget)."

The district is tackling the problem on several fronts. District Business Administrator Daniel Rossner met with DRA representatives on Monday.

DRA officials acknowledged that the forced reduction in the upcoming budget because of the surplus "may be an unintended consequence of the legislation (that created the law)," but they offered no solution, Rossner said.

School Board Chair Vincent Paul Migliore said the district made formal contact with Lynch's office on Tuesday morning asking for help.

Lynch's press secretary, Jennifer Kuzma, acknowledged the contact and potential for action.

"Our office received a message from Mr. Migliore today and is reaching out to him, as well as to DRA and the Department of Education to follow up," she said.

District 2 State Sen. Jeanie Forrester has been asked to help "fast-track" legislation to change the regulations, and district budget committee chair Fran Wendelboe, a former legislator, is also seeking help in the Legislature, Migliore said.

Meanwhile, school board members were forced to search Monday night for areas to cut the budget in case there is no remedy from the state before the deliberative session of Town Meeting on Feb. 4.

Potential cuts were discussed in athletic teams, textbook replacement, co-curricular and advising programs, technology and field trips.

The potential for closing a school in one of the district's seven towns was also discussed, as was cutting the After School Program, school officials said.

Migliore said the district is preparing "to show the full impacts, and how much this 'unintended consequence' would hurt our children, not to mention our staff."
dseufert@newstote.com

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