Nashua superintendent criticized for late posting of budget
NASHUA - Board of education members and Superintendent Mark Conrad apologized at Thursday night's public hearing on the $97.6 million proposed operating budget after being chastised for not posting the spending plan online until the day of the meeting.
Resident Robert Sullivan asked that the board postpone the hearing until next week in order to give the public the proper amount of time to digest the proposed budget.
"The budget was placed on the website today, and that bothers me. I want to make sure citizens have enough time to look at the budget so they can come to this meeting prepared. I think you should rescheduled this hearing until the end of next week, to give citizens enough time to go through the document. I think you are giving all the wrong messages to the citizens of Nashua," Sullivan said.
Conrad apologized for the delay and blamed the situation on how busy the district's administration has been.
"I understand that," Sullivan said, "but it is your responsibility, if you're too busy, put off the budget hearing so citizens can read it. This is a matter of principle. I ask that you please adhere to standards of excellence."
Sullivan added he would prefer that the meeting be held once the district has presented its budget to the mayor.
Robert Hallowell, board president, said that while he feels Sullivan has a point about the timing of making the budget publicly available, he preferred having a meeting before the board has finished its proposed budget because it allows board members time to consider public comments and amend the budget if needed.
Hallowell also said he will make a motion at the next board of education meeting to hold another public hearing once the district finalizes its budget and sends it to the mayor.
Before the meeting, district officials said that this year's budgeting process has the potential to be a bumpy road, as the proposed $97.6 operating budget represents a 2 percent increase over the current budget, and Mayor Donnalee Lozeau has asked all annual increases to be limited to 1 percent.
Conrad said that while only a 1 percent difference, if the district is forced to cut its increase from 2 percent to 1 percent they would have to cut $1 million out of the proposed operating budget.
Hallowell said that while the proposed budget has a larger increase than city officials would like to see, the district is dealing with a number of inherent constraints primarily created by the state Legislature decreasing funding for districts and municipalities state-wide.
"I don't think that this year's budget is controversial, but it is a challenge because it is higher than the mayor's target," Hallowell said.
Residents Pam Jordan and Barbara Maloney, who both have elementary school age children in the district, both gave their support to the superintendent's budget. They said they are happy to see funding designed to improve technology and reduce class size.
Board member Sandra Ziehm said that if the district got more money in good times it would be easier to sacrifice in bad times, but that the city's tax cap makes that next to impossible.
Ziehm said she used to be in favor of a tax cap but no longer for that very reason. After Jordan and Maloney spoke, Ziehm said "it is nice to see parents of students attending - I wish we saw more."
Ward 3 Aldermam Diane Sheehan spoke briefly as well, saying that for a change she was very pleased with the priorities reflected in the proposed budget and asked that board members support it.
Hallowell said the final budget number will probably not be finalized until June.