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March 02. 2014 7:53PM

Nashua to debate school spending

NASHUA — The city will have a chance to weigh in on school spending and priorities this week at the Board of Education’s public hearing on next year’s proposed $102 million school budget.

The hearing, scheduled for Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at Nashua High School North, follows more than a month of budget workshops on the $5 million, or 5.2 percent, increase over last year’s $97 million budget.

This year’s budget review began with Mayor Donnalee Lozeau asking the board to work with her to rein in spending and keep the district’s increase for next year to 2.1 percent. According to Lozeau, Nashua’s spending cap allows the entire city budget to grow by 2.3 percent or roughly $5 million this year. The proposed increase to the school budget would swallow the entirety of the city’s increase allowed under the spending cap.

“Almost always, other departments yield to the schools, police and fire,” said Lozeau, who added that the city still needs to look at the bottom line. “I think it’s critically important to keep our tax rate stable and to live within our spending cap.”

Still, Lozeau acknowledged that school officials may face some tough choices. Roughly $3.3 million of the proposed budget increase is earmarked to cover salaries and raises set in the new contracts for teachers and other personnel.

School administrators initially requested $1 million in new funds to cover increases in busing costs, but the new transportation contract is expected to cost less than originally anticipated.

The 2015 budget also calls for $275,000 more for out-of-district placements for special education students and $125,750 more for natural gas, based on the current market prices.

BOE members have no control over those and several other built-in spending increases.

School Superintendent Mark Conrad has stressed that less than 1 percent of the proposed budget is for new teachers, staff, text books and technology.

Among the new hires beings proposed are four new elementary school teachers that will keep class sizes at 25 students or less, a teacher of the deaf, a sign language interpreter and a middle school career counselor who would expand the Extended Learning Opportunities program.

The budget proposal also includes a recommendation to hire a social worker for freshmen at both of the city’s high schools and a part-time English Language Learner teacher for high school students who are no longer in the ELL program but still need academic support.

In addition to personnel, the 2015 budget also recommends increasing technology spending to $600,000, or a $150,000 bump up from last year’s spending.

Some BOE members have already said they cannot support a school budget that limits this year’s increase to 2.1 percent.

“The 5.2 percent raise in spending will only maintain our current services,” said BOE member Sandra Ziehm, who added that the school department provides a wide range of social and family services such as counseling, hot meals and dental care.

“We raise a lot of these kids,” said Ziehm. “If we limit the budget with a 2 percent increase, we’ll have to cut some of those services.”


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