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February 01. 2014 8:26PM

Sparse crowd sends $18m Souhegan district budget to voters

AMHERST - With only about 30 people in the audience, voters agreed Saturday to place a proposed $18 million Souhegan Cooperative School District budget on the March 11 ballot.

Few residents spoke at the school deliberative session, where voters were presented with a recommended budget increase of less than 1 percent.

"Fiscal management is always a focus for us," said Mary Lou Mullens, chairman of the Souhegan Cooperative School Board. Using a comprehensive, data-driven approach, Mullens said a newly formed budget study committee helped create the $18,058,502 fiscal year 2015 budget aimed at keeping class sizes below 20 students.

If the budget is approved at the polls, Amherst residents will see the Souhegan school portion of their tax rate increase from $7.86 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $8.18, while Mont Vernon residents will see an increase from $7.56 to $8.25.

"We were really trying to get to zero (increase), but we couldn't do it responsibly," explained Stephen Coughlan, board member.

The budget includes a reduction of 2.5 full-time teachers and 1 paraprofessional, said Coughlan.

Currently, there are 828 students attending Souhegan High School.

Enrollment projections for next year hover around 839 students, according to school officials.

However, after the increase next year, enrollment projections begin to decline in fiscal year 2016 to about 812 students, and even further in fiscal year 2017 to 783 students.

Voters also agreed to seek an additional $65,000 from surplus to be added to the district's expendable trust fund for school maintenance.

If the proposed $18 million budget is rejected, the default budget of $17,864,643 will be authorized.

- Kimberly HoughtonSunday News Correspondent

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