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Monday, October 17, 2016

Merrimack taxes to rise as cash gap saps $900K of school surplus

By DEREK EDRY
Staff Writer

MERRIMACK – While the town’s school system has one of its biggest budget surpluses in years, the district is going to need some of that cash again very soon.

Matt Shevenell, assistant superintendent for business of schools, said during an Oct. 3 school board meeting that the New Hampshire Department of Education reduced adequacy grant funding for Merrimack by around $928,000. ...

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MERRIMACK – While the town’s school system has one of its biggest budget surpluses in years, the district is going to need some of that cash again very soon.

Matt Shevenell, assistant superintendent for business of schools, said during an Oct. 3 school board meeting that the New Hampshire Department of Education reduced adequacy grant funding for Merrimack by around $928,000.

“So, call it a million,” Shevenell said in a grimaced manner. He said the main reason for the loss of funding was a recalculation of Merrimack’s average daily student enrollment figures.

“So, when we lose 149 students from our base average daily membership, that takes away aid; when free and reduced (meals) go down by a certain percent, that reduces aid; special ed average daily membership decreased, as well,” he said.

The Merrimack school system has a surplus of about $4.9 million this year. $3.3 million of it is an appropriations surplus, which means the school system spent less than what was budgeted by about $3.3 million of its $71 million budget.

“The areas that savings were realized in were salaries, benefits, maintenance – because of utility costs – and special education – around $800,000 savings in special education alone, ” Shevenell said, adding that the special education savings were the result of retaining more students instead of sending them to schools outside of the district.

The remaining surplus is a revenue surplus, which is mostly the result of the third and final $1 million settlement in regard to a health trust that was overcharged for several years.

Shevenell said that the budget is intentionally calculated for there to be a slight surplus in order to avoid a deficit. This year’s was $400,000 higher than last year’s, which is still significantly less than the nearly $1 million lost in state funds.

“So, the increase on the school side that people are going to see in their tax bill is around 56 cents per $1000,” Shevenell said. “Half of that is because of losing a million dollars of state aid.”

Chairwoman Shannon Barnes, at the meeting, said the board will need to take a different approach to preparing the budget for fiscal year 2017. The last school budget was rejected by voters at the polls in April, forcing the school district to operate under a smaller default budget and to make cuts.

“We cannot take such risks going forward,” Barnes said.

Barnes added that school officials are gathering an unprecedented amount of information so that voters can make the most-informed decisions possible next April.

Derek Edry can be reached at 594-6589, dedry@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_Derek.