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February 18. 2013 9:38PM

Derry school budget process defended by board member

DERRY - School board members are responding to criticism about how they have handled the school budget for the 2013-14 school year.

The board brought forth an $81,103,691 budget to the district deliberative session earlier this month, but an amendment to raise that number by $800,000 was passed by a 49-34 vote.

In the wake of that vote, some local leaders, including state Sen. Jim Rausch, have put forward the idea of putting the entire town budget process under one roof by changing Derry back to a city form of government.

However, school board member Dan McKenna defended the board, noting the board came forward with a responsible budget and that if more voters had attended the deliberative session, the budget number would not have gone up.

"There has been a lot of discussion since the deliberative session about the budget we passed and the process of the deliberative session," said McKenna. "I want to remind folks that this was a responsible budget that was set forth. The budget at the deliberative session was a 1.6 percent increase (over the current budget) and the large part of that increase was due to retirement costs that were sent down from the state."

He noted that the remainder of the increase was due largely to federal health care provisions and costs the district is responsible for, such as salaries and benefits.

"The thing that disturbs me about the discussion of the budget is that a lot of people are alluding to us failing to scale back," said McKenna. "In the past budget, we proposed 14 positions to be cut, which brought it to over 46 positions that have been cut from the budget in the last three years."

McKenna also addressed criticisms about class size and per-pupil spending, noting that the state's Department of Education website shows Derry with slightly larger than average class sizes and slightly below average per pupil spending in the state.

"I think it's easy for people to look at the final number and say they increased the budget even though the number of kids is going down," he said. "But when you look at it, the fiscal advisory committee and I think it was a responsible budget that I stand by."

McKenna also stated that he and many others did not support adding $800,000 to the budget.

As for the deliberative session process, McKenna said a handful of voters could have made a difference in preventing a vote that will further increase the town's property tax rate.

"If 15 more people had been there, it could have been a different story," he said. "The fact of the matter is that there weren't many people there. There were less than 100 people who voted. Anyone in town could have been there and made a motion to reduce the budget and send it the other way."

McKenna said the answer isn't to do away with the separation between the school board and the town council.

"We're a democracy," he said. "The people who show up and vote get to decide what happens. I'd encourage folks who are upset about taxes and don't like what happened to please come next year."

aswift@newstote.com


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