Merrimack School board unveils its $68.7M proposalBy KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent
January 09. 2014 10:55PM
MERRIMACK — A public hearing on the school district’s proposed $68.7 million budget will take place on Monday when the school board meets to continue reviewing the recommended spending plan.
The Merrimack School Board has been presented with the administrator’s recommended budget of $68,728,290, which represents a 2.63 percent increase over the existing budget of nearly $67 million.
Two full-time teaching positions will be eliminated from the district under the proposed budget, mostly due to declining enrollment projections.
“The administration remains committed to not only maintaining a low student-teacher ratio, but also ensuring equity in the student-teacher ratios across grade levels among the three elementary schools,” Superintendent Marjorie Chiafery said in a recent budget memo to the school board.
The proposed budget recommends transferring one teaching position from Reeds Ferry Elementary School to James Mastricola Elementary School, along with eliminating a second-grade teaching position at Reeds Ferry and a second-grade teaching position at Thorntons Ferry Elementary School.
The change, according to Chiafery, will enable a student-teacher ratio of 20 or 21 students per teacher for all second-grade classes at each elementary school.
Enrollment is expected to decrease at all but one school within the district. James Mastricola Upper Elementary School may see an increase from 598 students to about 603 students in the next year, according to recent data.
Thorntons Ferry could see its student population drop from 459 to 444; James Mastricola could decrease from 451 to 436 students; Reeds Ferry could drop from 536 to 523 students; Merrimack Middle School may decrease from 604 to 584 students; and Merrimack High School is projected to have 1,299 students compared to its current enrollment of 1,308.
“The overall district enrollment is projected to decline by 65 students,” said Chiafery. “The administration is proposing the reduction of two full-time teaching positions due to declining enrollment.”
Health insurance continues to be a significant expenditure in the school district’s proposed budget, according to Chiafery, who said business administrator Matthew Shevenell will be discussing with legal counsel the possibility of establishing a trust fund designated to address health insurance premium costs by offsetting the increase that occurs each year.
She explained that the guaranteed maximum rate cap for health insurance in the upcoming school year is 11.4 percent, which represents $1.1 million more than what is currently budgeted in the existing spending plan.
Other proposals in the suggested budget include an ongoing furniture replacement plan for all six schools, and a recommended purchase of new texts for four high school courses.
Proposed capital improvement projects include $211,000 for asbestos abatement at James Mastricola Upper Elementary School; $750,073 to replace a portion of the roof at Merrimack High School; and a $190,595 new air-cooled chiller component for the high school roof.
Monday’s public hearing on the proposed school district budget — the second of two public meetings — will begin at 7 p.m. at the high school.