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Derry council chairman questions school budget process

Union Leader Correspondent

February 21. 2013 9:41PM

DERRY - In the wake of discussions over the budget process and the vote at this month's school district deliberative session that increased the school budget by $800,000, town council chairman Brad Benson said he hopes to continue joint sessions among the town's financial players to help keep Derry's tax rate under control.

The school 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 to a city form of government.

Several weeks before the deliberative session vote, the town council held a joint meeting with the school board, trustees and administrators from Pinkerton Academy, and local legislators.

Benson said there will be future meetings of all those parties.

"This is a community problem that Derry has to get its hands around and fix, or we'll be a town that doesn't function well and is not affordable," he said.

Although the vote at the deliberative session had a negative impact on the town's tax rate, Benson said the vote could also have gone the other way, with people voting to cut the school budget and negatively affecting the education provided by the town.

"It's my opinion that strategically we want to continue on the path of working with Pinkerton, working with the school district and working with the community to fix this issue we have as far as the tax rate goes and what we are spending," said Benson.

Benson also said he believes the value of the deliberative session process for the school budget has come and gone and that the school district should handle the budget more like the town handles the municipal budget.

"I just think that when you have an $81 million budget put together over the course of three, four or five months and you're going to go into a meeting where you are going to discuss it and change it, the people don't know it as well as the people who put the budget together," said Benson. "It seems to me the schools should be run more like how the town is run, but that is just my opinion."

During this week's town council meeting, several people spoke about the budget process and the need to educate voters about how it works.

Zoning Board of Adjustment member Lynn Perkins said he has spoken to a number of residents who are unaware of how the deliberative session works and called for more education from the town and a more streamlined approach.

Councilor Neil Wetherbee said he appreciated that people brought forth their concerns about the budget to the town council, but added that they should also bring their concerns to the school board.

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