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Friday, January 13, 2012

Public hearing planned on school budget


Staff Writer

MILFORD – A divided School Board voted last week to approve a default budget of $35,850,657 for 2012-2013.

The proposed budget and default budget for 2012-2013 will be reviewed at a public hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 17, at 7 p.m. in the high school lecture room, Room 182.

The default budget is the spending plan that would go into effect if the proposed budget is defeated at the polls March 13. Last month the board approved the $36,322,137 budget unanimously, and last week it voted 3-2 to approve the default budget. Kevin Drew and Chairman Paul Dargie voted in the minority.

Milford board members “have had an ongoing disagreement” about the interpretation of the state law that defines the default budget, because that law is vague, said Dargie in an e-mail, with the main disagreement revolving around the definition of one-time expenditures that should be removed from the default budget.

The majority of the board interprets the meaning of one-time expenditures “to be anything that the District is choosing to not continue in the new budget, regardless of the nature of the expense,” wrote Dargie.

There is about $238,000 worth of items that Dargie would add back to the default budget, including $122,000 for two Heron Pond Elementary School teaching positions that were cut this year because of student enrollment reductions and $68,000 for new equipment for curriculum improvement.

“Some people interpret the default budget to mean maintenance of services,” said Dargie, “where the intent is to include items in the default budget with the objective of achieving similar service levels. I do not agree with that interpretation, as it is not identified in any way in the actual language of the definition of the default budget.”

On Jan. 2, the School Board also went over a draft of the school warrant, which along with election of officers, includes only three articles: the operating budget, cost items related to a pending collective bargaining agreement with support staff, and an article authorizing a special meeting if the agreement with the Milford Educational Support Staff Association is defeated.

The proposed operating budget of $36.3 million is a 1.16 percent increase over last year and would cause a 60 cent increase per thousand in the property tax rate, from $17.65 to $18.25. That number does not include any spending for the support staff contract being negotiated.

Dargie said the 3.4 percent increase is in line with inflation and a good compromise between the needs of the students and the needs of the taxpayers.

Citizens will vote on the proposed budget March 13, but they have no control over the default budget. Prior to that, they will have a chance to amend the school district warrant at the Deliberative Session on Thursday, Feb. 9.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 21, or kcleveland@nashuatelegraph.