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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Looking ahead, Nashua school board sees massive budget hurdle looming

NASHUA – With the books barely closed on this year’s budget, school board members are already looking to start cutting next year’s spending plan.

The board is examining cuts to special education, transportation and athletics to contain more than $3 million in anticipated 2016 budget increases, due mostly to increases associated with the recently approved teacher’s contract. ...

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NASHUA – With the books barely closed on this year’s budget, school board members are already looking to start cutting next year’s spending plan.

The board is examining cuts to special education, transportation and athletics to contain more than $3 million in anticipated 2016 budget increases, due mostly to increases associated with the recently approved teacher’s contract.

“Next year is expected to be more difficult. Some of these things require so much advanced planning and research, we really need to look at them now,” Board of Education Chairman George Farrington said Thursday. “There will in all likelihood be cuts … but by starting this conversation now, we can more thoughtfully begin this process.”

School Superintendent Mark Conrad said based on the inflation rate, the 2016 budget’s spending cap could go up 1.6 or 1.8 percent. That would require at least $1.2 million to $1.4 million in cuts from the projected 2106 budget, which is projected to come in at more than $103 million.

“At some point in time, because of resources, we have to decide if we want to do everything poorly, or some things well,” said board member Sandra Ziehm.

Board member Kimberly Muise said people have told her they don’t mind taxes going up if services also improve, but they don’t like taxes going up while services are getting cut.

“That’s not going over too well right now,” she said.

To reduce a projected 7 percent increase in transportaion costs, the board debated whether to continue to bus high school students living within two miles of school. Currently the state only requires the district to transport students living more than two miles away.

Board member Robert Hallowell said it’s worth exploring whether there are other travel arrangements that could be made for students, such as arranging carpools.

“As we require students to walk or find other ways … we need to think about the winter,” Farrington said.

For funding athletics, members speculated whether they could reduce costs by cutting program offerings, increasing fees, or both. Board member David Murotake suggested looking into charging fees for middle school athletics.

Board member Dorothy Oden said the athletic community does a lot of fundraising.

“I would like to get suggestions from them,” she said.

Special education and para-educators represent a significant cost for the district. Conrad questioned whether certain students could be moved away from having full-time direct para-educator support.

“That had to be put on the table to at least look at, because it constitutes such a large part of our staff,” he said.

The Nashua district does not offer intermediary special needs support programs between high school and intensive needs programs such as Brentwood, Conrad said. “It’s a matter of creating a continuum of options,” he said. More options could prevent additional out-of-district placements.

Tina Forbes can be reached at 594-6402 or tforbes@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Forbes on Twitter (@Telegraph_TinaF).