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March 26. 2013 10:19PM

Nashua school spending proposal up 1.71 percent

NASHUA - Despite several contentious moments, the Board of Education approved a recommended district budget for the 2013-2014 school year of $97.3 million, a 1.71 percent increase over the current year.

The budget will now be sent to the mayor and Board of Aldermen for their approval, with the process expected to last well into June.

Despite cutting more than $250,000 from the superintendent's recommended budget, the budget approved by the School Board still did not conform to Mayor Donnalee Lozeau's request that all city department's limit their annual increases to 1 percent.

The final number approved by the board stands at, $97,349,345.02, which is 288,954.98 less than what Superintendent Mark Conrad initially requested. In the end the budget passed, 7-2, with board members Dennis Ryder and David Murotake voting against it.

Board member Sandra Ziehm said the budget hearings were particularly contentious this year and that every member lost their patience at least once.

"I think this is the most difficult budget that I can recall," board President Robert Hallowell said.

Ziehm told her colleagues, "I hope going forward this won't hinder our work as a board."

One of the more contentious moments of the night belonged to board members Steven Haas and Ryder.

After Ryder remarked that he felt his role as a Board of Education member was to protect and think of taxpayers, Haas said a board member's focus should be on the school district and the children.

"If you want to cut taxes, join the aldermen," Haas said.

After that remark, a clearly agitated Ryder demanded the right to speak, adding that he feels his responsibility is to the taxpayer and the children of the district. Ryder then chastised board member Thomas Vaughan, who is chairman of the budget meetings, for allowing Haas to speak in such a way while trying to silence Ryder for same thing.

Much of the tension arose when discussing Murotake's proposed motions, none of which passed, included doubling athletic fees.

Hallowell said that for a student to participate in the hockey team, they must pay $500. Many board members added that doubling the fees could drive students to stop participating in athletics, meaning fee increases might be negligible while participation drops might be dramatic.

Murotake said that after talking with several residents and city officials, he felt it appropriate to try to reduce the superintendent's budget to get as close as possible to the 1 percent limit requested by the mayor.

Alderman Diane Sheehan appeared before the Board of Education during the meeting's public session and told members to budget what is needed and not to take into account Lozeau's request.

"School class size needs to be the No. 1 priority. It has a direct impact on quality of life in the city, the price of real estate and who we can draw to the community. This needs to be invested in. One dollar spent for kindergarten is much more worthwhile than a reading specialist later on," Sheehan said.

Sheehan added that due to events last year, when she said the Board of Education asked for and received more money and did not spend it on what it said it would, it would be likely that if the Board of Education were to ask for more money this year, that request would be denied.

Once Sheehan left, befuddled Board of Education members, including Hallowell and Vaughan, remarked that any extra money asked for last year was spent on exactly what it was meant for.

"I can't explain that," Hallowell said, while Vaughan added he didn't want to spend time discussing it.

Ryder said he resented aldermen coming to the Board of Education's budget meetings, saying that control over the budget is the Board of Education's and that the mayor and aldermen only set the bottom line.


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