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February 12. 2013 9:53PM

Retirements create gap in Hooksett school budget plans

HOOKSETT - While all warrants were passed to the ballot without amendment at the Hooksett School District's deliberative session, several items produced substantial debate, with discussion at the session centering on several cuts in the budget committee's proposed operating budget.

The Hooksett School District operating budget recommended by the budget committee is $27,514,673, with the default budget set at $27,934,852. The school board, however, voted to not recommend the budget committee's budget.

"We felt the default budget was one that could more adequately fund education than the budget committee's budget," said school board Chair Trisha Korkosz at the deliberative session.

When asked for specifics, Korkosz expressed concerns about a $68,000 cut in technology funding.

"A couple of the items that were cut at the budget committee level were items for technology," she said. "With the implementation of the Common Core standards, we need to have our computer systems and the proper amount of hardware."

Budget committee Chair Marc Miville noted that a part of the reason why the committee cut technology funds was because the district had already set a significant amount aside from the current fund balance.

School board member David Pearl complained that $148,000 to be used for Common Core-compliant curriculum purchases was taken out of the budget, with the administration intending to pay for the purchases from the district's current fund balance. This, Pearl argued, makes the proposed budget "appear to be under default," and is an approach he disapproved of, believing fund balances should be used exclusively for "unforeseen" and "emergency" purchases.

The administration has also expressed reservations with the budget committee's budget, particularly cuts made to two teaching positions.

There were three retirements at the Hooksett Memorial School in the last year. Superintendent Dr. Charles P. Littlefield said he hoped to use the newfound financial flexibility for the reallocation of resources, keeping only one position at Memorial and moving the other two to Cawley Middle School. One would go to the sixth grade to deal with an "enrollment bubble." The other would go to the seventh grade for the purpose of allowing teachers to remain "subject-matter pure," or teaching only within their area of expertise.

"The need is different. The number of staff members remains the same," Littlefield said.

The budget committee's budget includes funding for only one of the three positions. The default budget, by virtue of containing the allocations for the previous year, when the teachers remained in the district, has funding for all three. Should the budget committee's budget pass, the administration will replace one teacher at Memorial and leave the remaining two unfilled.

The budget committee members said that while they understood that these were not new positions - though some argued that the administration's initial presentation of them suggested otherwise, prompting Littlefield to exclaim that "there was no budget that left my office that added staff members to the school district" - the positions could still be cut.

"I looked at it and said well, can we absorb those three retirements without replacing those positions . and still educate our kids at an adequate level," said budget committee member Jason Hyde. "Personally, I felt we could (and) save the taxpayers money through attrition."

Another point of concern was funding for a Common Core facilitator, a position Littlefield has repeatedly stressed is necessary. The facilitator would assist teachers in the implementation of the new statewide Common Core standards, and prepare for the new Smarter Balance district assessment test.

There is no money for a Common Core facilitator in either budget. The administration has discussed the possibility of reallocating funds from a kindergarten teaching position at the Underhill School, but is waiting to see the final kindergarten enrollment figures for next year before making a determination.

bclogston@newstote.com


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