Nashua superintendent criticized for 'backdoor deal' with mayor
NASHUA - While the Board of Education agreed to add $90,000 to the district's $97 million operational budget Monday night for the hiring of two unassigned elementary school teachers to keep class size numbers down, one board member accused Superintendent Mark Conrad of engaging in dealings with Mayor Donnalee Lozeau behind the board's back.
Board member Kimberly Muise, while voting for the additional positions, said she was upset that Conrad engaged in what she called a "backdoor deal" with the mayor before addressing the issue with the Board of Education. Muise said she and fellow board member Sandra Ziehm, who was not present, had been voicing concerns about class sizes during the entire budget process, and even tried to add additional elementary positions only to be voted down.
"Now, at the end of the process, they figure this out?" Muise said.
Before the budget meeting, Conrad said he met with mayor Donnalee Lozeau, who will present the district's budget to the Board of Alderman Tuesday night, and informed her that recent enrollment information was cause for concern.
To ensure the class sizes remain manageable, Conrad said Lozeau recommended the district add $90,000 to the operational budget for the two positions Conrad wanted and then she would remove $100,000 from the deferred maintenance portion of the budget.
"This way the tax rate doesn't go up. Moving the money this way is actually a very good idea of the mayor's," said Robert Hallowell, board president.
Conrad said the impetus of adding the two positions to the budget was a recent evaluation of student enrollment numbers in the elementary schools. The numbers created concern among district principals about class size, Conrad said, resulting in the need for the additional teachers.
While the additional money was added and Hallowell called the Mayor's solution to increase the operating budget without increasing the tax rate elegant, some members were unhappy with how the money was added at the last minute.
"This doesn't seem right after we spent weeks coming up with the budget, and in the end the mayor ends up doing it," board member Dennis Ryder said.
Hallowell took umbrage with Ryder's statement and defended the budget adjustment.
"I take exception to that," Hallowell said. "(The mayor) suggested this to solve this problem in a more efficient way. There are other solutions, but they are much less elegant than this. We can wait for the surplus, but this way you don't have to rush to do something at the end of the year," Hallowell said.
Hallowell told the board that Lozeau agreed to reduce the deferred maintenance account line item from $300,000 to $200,000 if the board wanted to increase the operating budget by $90,000 to offset the cost. Hallowell added that Lozeau said that any funds from the current district budget surplus above $600,000 could be used to bring funding of the maintenance account back to $300,000.
While the school district has a roughly $97 million dollar operating budget, the actual budget for the next school year is much closer to $139 million. Previously, Conrad said that while the district's operational budget includes things like teacher salary, the city is responsible for determining a large portion of the district's budget as it relates to things like insurance costs. Hallowell said the maintenance account falls under the purview of the city and is the responsibility of the city to manage.