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February 01. 2014 8:31PM

Nashua mayor asking for compromise on school budget

NASHUA - Mayor Donnalee Lozeau is asking school officials to work with her to find a compromise between her proposal to increase school spending by 2.1 percent and the school district's 2015 budget proposal that calls for a 5.2 percent hike in spending.

Lozeau spoke to the Board of Education Saturday morning at the first of a series of budget workshops that will take place over the next several weeks. Superintendent Mark Conrad and some advisers have proposed a $102.5 million school budget, which is $5 million more than last year's $97.4 million budget.

"Infrastructure, education, public safety; those are things we all have to grapple with," said Lozeau. "I'm asking you to work with me."

The school district's budget proposal includes more than $3.3 million for pay raises and new personnel, including four new elementary school teachers to ease classroom crowding, a middle school teacher for the deaf, a sign language interpreter, four more staff members for intensive special-needs students, a career counselor and a high school social worker.

Other significant changes include boosting the transportation budget from $5.2 million to $6.2 million, increasing the spending on computer hardware from $450,000 to $600,000 and spending $520,000, or about $66,000 more, on curriculum.

On Saturday, Director of Special Education Janice Martin and assistant director Kimberly Degrappo outlined the needs of their department, which provide services for 1,828 students throughout the district.

Nashua spends a little more than $4 million on out-of-district tuition for students with special needs.

Although the district is proposing an increase of about $175,000 for additional special education teachers and staff, Martin said the average cost of the alternative, sending a student to a school in another community, is $65,000.

Board member David Murotake also noted that the federal government has been coming up short in its commitment to help with 40 percent of the costs of special education. The government has been picking up about 18 percent of the bill, leaving the rest to local taxpayers.

Lozeau highlighted those taxpayers when she asked board members to try to limit this year's increases in spending.

"I don't think it's easy," she said, adding that residents are paying for many other critical services. "I don't value education any less than you, it's just that I have a greater responsibility to look at all those things."

Lozeau also said Nashua has consistently supported the city's schools and students.

"We've never had to cut services. You're not reading headlines of big teacher layoffs like in other places," she said.

Lozeau said she believed both the city and the school department could find a compromise if they worked together.

"I'm hopeful, as always, we'll find a solution," she said. "My point is, to get there, we have to understand each other's pain."


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