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February 04. 2013 10:41PM

Derry voters increase school budget

DERRY - At a school district deliberative session attended by only a tiny fraction of the town's registered voters on Saturday morning, it took only 54 votes to place an $800,000 increase over the proposed school budget on the town election ballot.

With Derry Education Association president Meg Morse-Barry's successful motion to increase the budget proposed by the school administration and approved by the school board, voters will be considering an $81,903,691 budget at the polls on Tuesday, March 12.

However, that increased number may not have any real impact on the services provided by the school district.

Morse-Barry and those who supported the amended budget cited the 14 proposed staffing cuts, including 7.5 teaching positions, as the main reason to support adding money back to the budget. The budget as originally approved by the school board was a 1.65 percent increase over the current year's budget.

"Usually, I am concerned about the budget being cut beyond the board recommendations at the deliberative session," said school board member Ken Linehan. "This time it was certainly different. I was disappointed that only 80 people showed up for the meeting."

Linehan said the amendment approved on Saturday will be an unnecessary burden for taxpayers.

"I expect the district will still spend based upon the previous board-approved budget and the positions will still be eliminated," he said. "Unfortunately, we will now need to collect an unnecessary additional amount of money through property taxes and just give it back at the end of the 2013-14 school year."

The positions that were eliminated were chosen because they represented excess levels of staffing, according to Linehan.

"Through the good work done by the administrative team and looking at the district as a whole, efficiency improvements were identified," he said. "With these staff reductions, no programs will be cut and class sizes will still fall within the Derry School District goals, which are lower than state standards. It would be irresponsible of the district to spend taxpayer money in excess of what is necessary, regardless of how much is in the budget."

School board chairman Brenda Willis said she was also surprised by the motion at Saturday's meeting, but added that she voted against the proposed budget at the public hearing last month because she was concerned about some of the cuts.

"It is also frustrating to me to see nearly a 3 percent increase at Pinkerton Academy, with additions to their staff, while K-8 has to absorb all the cuts in revenue," said Willis. "The impact of cuts needs to be seriously looked at, not only for the next year, but five and 10 years out."

Willis said the school board has been working on the district strategic plan as it looks to the future.

"We need to review our facilities and the educational needs of our students and then continue to develop the plan and adjust it accordingly," she said. "There is much hard work ahead for the district, and much to be considered as to how we can best provide for our children and our community."

aswift@newstote.com


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