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Manchester school budget money defended

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 17. 2014 8:51PM

MANCHESTER — School district officials on Tuesday defended their proposed budget before the aldermen, some of whom are eager to claim a chunk of its funding for the city.

The district has proposed a $160 million budget for the 2015 fiscal year, which is 2.13 percent larger than last year, the limit imposed by the tax cap. Taken together, the school and city budgets proposed by Mayor Ted Gatsas increase by $4 million, with $2.3 million going to the schools and $1.6 million going to the city. (Gatsas’ proposal, the one under review by the aldermen, subtracts $500,000 from the district’s preferred budget and shifts it to the city.)

The district has also amassed a surplus topping $1 million in the current fiscal year, due to savings in its salary and benefits line, while they city is facing a deficit of more than $1.5 million.

Several aldermen, who have the authority to establish the budget for the school district, suggested on Tuesday that the budget was imbalanced at the expense of the city, which faces at least $6 million in unfunded costs in next year’s budget.

“I would like to see the schools give that money back to the city,” Ward 8 Alderman Tom Katsiantonis said.

Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschmann claimed that the mayor was “generous” to the school district in his budget because he gave the school district more money than was allowed under the tax cap.

“I can tell you right now there is no way this is going to happen,” he said.

In Hirschmann’s view, the tax cap imposes a 2.13 percent limit on how much the city tax rate and the school district tax rate, which are separate, can rise. By his calculations, this would result in $1.9 million more for the city, and $1.8 million more for the schools.

Alderman-At-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur asked Superintendent Debra Livingston whether layoffs would be necessary if the schools had to give back $1 million.

“Yes,” she said. “Cuts of any kind would have an effect on the quality of education for the children of Manchester.”

District Business Administrator Karen DeFrancis said the district surplus would be used to offset any deficits in next year’s budget.

She said the school district is effectively giving the money back to the city by including it as a revenue stream in next year’s budget. If the district spent the money instead, she reasoned, the district would have to come to the city next year to make up that difference.

Other aldermen took aim some of the provisions of the budget, including $743,000 for 5.5 more assistant principals.

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