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Keene school board proposes staff cuts and no bond

Union Leader Correspondent

January 14. 2013 9:20PM

KEENE - The Keene Board of Education's proposed $62,333,572 budget includes approximately 10 staff cuts to curb increases caused by rising collective bargaining agreements and retirement system costs.

The proposed 2013-14 budget, which would be a $471,761 or 0.76 percent increase over the current $61.8 million budget, will be presented at a public hearing for the proposed annual meeting warrant at Keene High School tonight at 7.

SAU 29 business administrator John Harper said if the budget with its $1.5 million in staff cuts is voted down, the default budget would be $63,490,613 because of costs that are out of the district's control such as collective bargaining agreements from previous years as well as an increase in the district's contribution to the retirement system.

"They're passing everything down to the district level," said board member Neil Donegan of the state's handling of retirement system costs.

Without the staff cuts, "It would have made the whole budget increase by probably 3 percent," Harper said.

Donegan said between nine and 12 positions would be cut if the budget is approved. Most of the cuts would be at the high school level, he said, including the athletics director and school nurse positions that would be cut in half.

The high school nurses positions were to have been cut more, but the board reconsidered after taking input at Saturday's budget workshop. About an hour and a half of the workshop was public input about the staff cuts, Donegan said Monday.

The elementary school language program would also be cut if the budget is approved since it calls for eliminating the two part-time positions that make up the program for the district's fifth-graders, a French teacher and a Spanish teacher.

Harper said the staff cuts were unavoidable if the board wants to keep the budget from increasing more.

"There's been some that have occurred in the past year or two. This has been the largest round," Harper said of the cuts.

The board has been pruning the budget throughout the recession and all of the "low hanging fruit" is gone, he said. "We are at the extent of the pruning stage in which the items that could be cut have already been cut years ago."

Scrapped at the Saturday budget workshop was a bond article to fund the planned restructuring of the city's five elementary schools. Plans to convert one of the current elementary schools into a pre-school, while diverting all Kindergarten though fifth-grade students to the remaining four elementary schools requires building renovations and the accompanying building code upgrades, Harper said.

The Board of Education has been working toward an elementary school consolidation for years, but thought the bond needed to take the step would cost between $6 million and $7 million, he said. Last week, though, the district's architects and construction managers told the board the new construction and improvements, including installing sprinkler systems and upgrading the heating systems would cost $12.5 million, Donegan said.

"Those three items turned out to be a little bit more than $12 million and we have anticipated spending $7.5 million," Donegan said. "And there is no state aid anymore so that all would have been borne by the taxpayers."

Board members decided at the Saturday workshop to delay the plans for a year so that they could be modified or the cost could be negotiated down.

The budget public hearing is tonight at 7 at Keene High School. The board may amend the budget after receiving public input. Voters would have the opportunity to amend the budget at the deliberative session, Saturday, Feb. 9, at 9 a.m. at Keene High School.

Schools Politics Keene

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