March 22. 2013 12:46AM

Windham looking for room in a tight budget

Union Leader Correspondent

WINDHAM - The Windham School Board will hold a special meeting next week to determine the best way to meet staffing shortages while working within the $45,133,742 default budget.

During Tuesday night's meeting, board members were divided in their opinion on Superintendent Dr. Henry LaBranche's proposal to keep several new faculty positions in the budget.

Ultimately, LaBranche's motion to retain four teaching positions failed before the board, with three members voting against the motion and two voting in favor.

The district's proposed operating budget failed before voters at the March 12 polls, leaving school administrators to grapple with a $445,372 budget deficiency in the coming fiscal year. Had the proposed budget passed earlier this month, the plan was to add a dozen new teaching positions spread across the district.

LaBranche said that despite the failure of the proposed budget, a large fifth-grade class is expected to transition to the middle school next year and an additional language arts teacher for sixth-graders would be needed.

He also proposed keeping a kindergarten teacher at Golden Brook School and two high school teachers.

"I believe this would be the best reallocation of our funds," LaBranche said of the four staffing positions, noting the final decision rests with the School Board.

"From an educational perspective ... we're putting an emphasis on two primary areas," the superintendent said. "At the high school, we had 240 students who were unable to register for science and business classes last year."

At the middle school, he said, there's need for an additional sixth-grade teacher, while the kindergarten teacher is needed to assist students who need extra assistance as they prepare for elementary school.

The four teaching positions would have cost the district an additional $265,434 next year, had the board approved LaBranche's proposal.

"I think we should move forward with the default budget, retaining these four (proposed new) positions," he said.

Savings could be found by eliminating an additional bus, LaBranche said, which would save the district over $68,000, as well as in several other areas.

Board member Michelle Farrell said that when voters vote, they are not looking at each line item.

"It looks to me like you've prioritized the children's education and taken away that which doesn't directly affect our students," Farrell told the superintendent. "So I agree with what you've done. I think each of these four teachers is critical for the success of our students."

Newly elected board member Dennis Senibaldi disagreed, noting the need for "voter confidence."

"I understand educational needs, but when people look at this . the voters said no," Senibaldi said. "Fundamentally and ethically, I just can't turn around and go against what they said. These are huge issues that need to be resolved, but to resolve these issues you need to be able to get people to say yes."

The Windham School Board will meet again on Thursday, March 28.

The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the community development room inside the town complex.