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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Nashua Board of Education eliminates preschool, passes $95.4m budget onto mayor

The Board of Education gave unanimous approval late Wednesday night to its $95.4 million proposed budget and sent the spending plan onto the mayor.

The board earlier voted to eliminate the additional preschool classroom from its proposed budget as members voiced their desire to strengthen current School District programs rather than embark on new ones. The district’s budget proposal is an increase of about $1 million, or about 1 percent, compared to last year’s base budget of about $94.5 million.

Despite doing some tinkering, the board, meeting initially as its Budget Committee, approved the budget before reconvening and unanimously approving the proposal. The nine board of Education members are also members of the Budget Committee.

The approved budget now goes to Mayor Donnalee Lozeau for inclusion in the city’s budget.

The decision to eliminate the preschool classroom – and therefore reduce the budget by $94,425 – wasn’t an easy one, but it eventually passed, 5-3. Several board members talking about “mixed feelings” with scrapping the program.

“While I agree totally with the administration’s goal, I unfortunately cannot support it at this time,” member Kim Muise said. “This is one area I have absolutely anguished over and have heard the most public response to.”

Superintendent Mark Conrad originally proposed adding the classroom for at-risk students, many of whom are not ready for kindergarten when they enter school.

The board also unanimously voted Wednesday to add $100,000 to the School District budget for math curriculum resources, while reducing the budget for technology by the same amount to keep the move cost-neutral.

Board President Bob Hallowell included in his motion that $100,000 be removed from the natural gas account this year and spent instead on technology, in order to keep the district’s proposed technology funding even but use the money it will save on natural gas from the mild winter.

His colleagues on the board called the move “brilliant.”

“I have only one word to say: slick,” said board member Bill Mosher, to several nods and chuckles among the board.

Muise said it also will allow technology staff to buy equipment sooner, install it this summer and prepare it to be ready for next year.

The consensus among the board was to spend more money on math instruction, but Hallowell soothed some of the board members with tight pockets by proposing the cost-neutral amendment.

The board also approved a minor reduction of $6,000 to the budget, after board member Steven Haas motioned to decrease the proposed stipends for part-time, middle-school athletic directors from $5,000 apiece to $3,000 apiece. There will be one at each middle school, for a total cost of $9,000.

The board also approved adding a physical-education teacher for $44,425 and approved adding $15,000 to the budget for the DonorChoose initiative. Both motions passed without much discussion, although Nashua Teachers Union President Bob Sherman spoke before the meeting in favor of the physical education teacher’s position.

Another motion to reduce the budget for building repairs by $25,000 was defeated, 7-1. Hallowell and Hass emphasized that the money set aside for building repairs might seem like a lot, but it actually saves the district money by keeping buildings up-to-date and safe for students.

Last week, the board approved $170,000 of increases to the budget.

Those increases include an elementary school assistant principal, one middle school reading specialist, a middle school music teacher, and two elementary school teachers – one in art and one in music. Each of the teaching positions comes at a cost increase of $44,425 and the assistant principal’s position was offset by reductions in the accounts for natural gas and for non-union employee raises.

The only other approved changes happened three weeks ago, when the board voted to reduce the School District’s severance reserve and electricity accounts, after chief operating officer Daniel Donovan outlined new predictions based on updated numbers. The severance account was reduced $150,000 and the electricity account was reduced $75,000 – for a total savings of $225,000 in the proposed budget.

Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or