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March 07. 2013 9:04PM

Conway voters battle over school funds

CONWAY - Conway voters turned down an amendment to restore the proposed 2013-2014 operating budget to the one recommended by the Conway School Board at Wednesday's deliberative school session.

The $33,137,099 recommended by the Conway Municipal Budget Committee was moved to the ballot, and in April voters will have a choice to OK the budget. The defeat of the article would leave the school district with the default budget of $33,635,533.

The budget adopted in April 2012 for 2012-2013 was $32,543,306. Though the school board's budget only represented a 2.97-percent increase, the tax impact would be greater due to several factors, including a drop in tuition revenues from sending towns. The board estimates that tuition revenue will go down $633,125 for the next school year.

The estimated tax rate under the school board's recommended budget was $12.16 per $1,000 valuation, an increase of 6.09 percent from last year. If that budget had been approved, and the other warrant articles approved, the board projects an increase in the school tax to $12.79.

The vote against the amendment, the third proposed at the meeting, would have increased the operating budget to $33,509,885. Though it was voted down 92-65, it was notable because it bucked the trend of the evening. Earlier, two amendments that proposed deeper cuts failed by large margins.

The first amendment, to lower the budget to $29,825,390, failed on a vote of 117-37.

"We need to protect our seniors," committee member Steve Steiner said in support of the $29 million amendment, "and our working poor, who are working two to three jobs."

The second proposed amendment, which would cut the bottom line to $32,972,099, failed on a 111-45 vote. "Sometimes, you just have to do without," Conway resident Ted Sares said in defense of the motion.

Bartlett Principal Joe Voci, a Conway resident, made the motion to change the 2013-12 proposed operating budget back to school board's recommendation.

Mark Hounsell, who said he was speaking for himself, not as a budget committee member, said he knew the votes were there to pass Voci's amendment, but if voters in April were left with fewer choices to reduce their overall tax burden, they might vote against the special warrant articles.

"What we have before us is no choice," Hounsell said. "We all know how austerity is replacing prosperity."

On the warrant this year is an article approving a two-year teachers' contract. If approved, the estimated impact for salaries and benefits in 2013-14 is $230,371, and $266,740 in 2014-15. The contract gives teachers a 1.7-percent increase in year one, and a 2.5-percent increase in year two, with a salary of $30,500 for new teachers.

School board and budget committee member Syndi White pointed out that the board had tried to cut more from its proposed budget, which the administrators of the schools had level funded, and they cut $400,000 out of that level funding. They had stopped at $400,000 because cutting more meant cutting staff, would affect programming, she said.

Beside the loss in revenue, the school board and budget committee had to cope with the effect of a 9.54-percent increase in special education costs, a $547,328 increase.



syoungknox@newstote.com



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