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Computer upgrades, new school on March ballot in Windham

WINDHAM – Residents will have the opportunity to weigh in on a proposed $12.25 million town budget at a public hearing scheduled for next week.

A public hearing on the proposed budget and 2013 Town Warrant is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 14, in the Community Development Department offices.

The deadline for submitting citizens’ petitions for the warrant is Feb. 5.

The preliminary town warrant includes the $12.25 proposed budget and $740,775 in special articles to be decided by the voters. If all the articles pass as written the gross budget for 2013 would rise to $12,998,141. After deducting revenues, the 2013 net budget, on which the tax rate is set, would be $12,701,771, an increase of $324,193 or 2.62 percent.

Articles proposed on the town warrant include $75,000 to upgrade the town’s computer infrastructure and equipment, $202,876 to purchase new SCBA gear for the fire department, and $84,600 for police mobile data communication equipment. The police equipment would be offset by $23,348 from the Public Safety Contracted Details Fund, leaving $61,252 to come from the 2012 budget.

Windham school articles

School district officials are also drafting their 2013 warrant.The deliberatie session of School District Meeting is scheduled for Feb. 8 at the high school.

The School District warrant includes articles for a new school and approval of a tentative new teacher contract with the Windham Education Association.

The School Board is asking voters to approve $31 million in bonds to build a new seventh- and eighth-grade school on London Bridge Road and new fields for the high school and the middle school. Voters rejected a warrant article last year requesting $711,000 for architectural and engineering fees for the school project.

The project represents years of collaboration between the School Board, the administrative team, and community volunteers, according to School Business Administrator Adam Steel.

“We’re all in agreement this is the way to go,” Steel said.

The district is battling capacity issues at the middle school level. Enrollment projections for next year estimate the number of elementary students will decrease by five, while middle school students will increase by 51. The high school population is expected to grow by 21. To achieve average class size in FY14, Steel estimates the district would have to hire an additional 17 teachers in first through eighth grades.

The proposed FY14 budget includes funding to add a new special education teacher at the Golden Brook School, a case manager at the Center School, a sixth-grade reading teacher, and high school science teacher and business teachers. Seven positions were added and four expanded, adding $515,176 to the proposed budget.

In total, the FY14 proposed $43,564,228 default budget represents an increase of 3.44 percent over the FY13 $43,114,822 default budget, largely due to state retirement rate increases, health insurance, transportation contract, and special education costs, and the SAU28 split.

The proposed FY14 operating budget is a .99 percent increase above the default budget. That increase was brought about by a realignment of special education administrative positions to coincide with the SAU split, a realignment of the facilities department, and positions added in all four schools to address increased enrollment. Additional funding was also added to the proposed operating budget for an additional school bus and increases in technology equipment, Steel said.

All other areas of the operating budget were reduced by $206,026.

“We’ve done our best to keep Windham budget down as much as possible in relation to the default budget,” Steel said.

Voters will also be asked to approve a new three-year collective bargaining agreement reached with the teachers’ union. The teachers’ union and the School Board have ratified the agreement, which must be approved at Town Meeting before it can take effect.

“Windham is very fortunate to have excellent teachers that have continued to work to their fullest abilities even without a contract for the past two years,” said School Board member Stephanie Wimmer. “The teachers and the School Board have been in negotiations since July and have worked together to reach an agreement that rewards teachers for their hard work and is fiscally conservative in today’s economy.”

Teachers in the district have been working without a contract since the last contract expired in July 2011. As a result, the salary table has not increased and teachers have not advanced along the step rate since the contract expired. Health care benefits continued per the last contract, Wimmer said.

The tentative collective bargaining agreement restores one of those steps, Wimmer said. The agreement provides moderate salary increases along with concessions including increased cost sharing for teachers in the area of health care benefits.

The school district will see about $600,000 in savings during the first year of the three-year agreement, Wimmer said. Saving will continue throughout the contract.

The agreement will begin July 1, 2013, if approved by voters. The salary table would not increase the first year, but would go up 1.5 percent the second year and 2.25 percent in year three.

Teachers will also have the opportunity to earn bonuses tied directly to individual performance. It’s the first time that has been offered, Wimmer said.

“This is groundbreaking for us,” Wimmer said.

Ballot voting is scheduled for March 12.

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