NASHUA — The Board of Education presented next year’s school budget to a sea of empty seats at Nashua High School North’s auditorium during a public hearing Wednesday night.
Although the presentation was based on Superintendent Mark Conrad’s proposed $102 million budget that calls for a $5 million increase over last year, Conrad said the administration is making adjustments and cuts, and he plans to present a revised budget to the board that will have a “low- to mid-4 percent increase.”
Still, even a 4 percent increase is close to double what Mayor Donnalee Lozeau has said the city can afford under its spending cap.
Alderman Michael Soucy, who represents Ward 5, was one of the few people to turn out for the budget hearing.
Although he complimented the board for the good things happening in the school district, the budget proposal on the table was a problem for Soucy.
“I’m going to strongly encourage Mr. Conrad and the board to get back to work,” said Soucy. “I can’t support a 5.2 percent increase. We just had an election, and the people have spoken. They want to see taxes reduced or at least stable.”
Alderman Diane Sheehan also attended the hearing and asked board members to tell the city what they need to do their job. Sheehan warned there will probably be cuts but stressed the value of homes in Nashua depend on the quality of the city’s schools.
Nashua resident Fred Teeboom was the only one at the hearing to strongly object to the budget proposal. According to Teeboom’s calculations, Nashua taxpayers are spending about $12,000 a year on each student in the district. Teeboom went through some of the recent test scores from students at Nashua’s high schools and suggested the city wasn’t getting its money’s worth.
“The mayor said 2.1 percent is what you are allowed,” said Teeboom. “Your proposal is to take all of the money allowed (under the spending cap). The hell with the police, the hell with the fire department and public works because you’re going to take it all.”
Conrad acknowledged that 5.2 percent is a large increase but he tried to put the budget proposal in context.
Last year, school spending rose by 2 percent and the year before by just 1 percent. And from FY 2010 to 2012, the school district lost 83 positions.
“About 30 percent of those losses were due to a decline in enrollment, but the majority of cuts were real reductions in resources,” he said.
Although the budget proposal calls for just over $5 million in new spending, much of the increase is due to costs beyond the Board of Educations’s control. Roughly $3.3 million is for teacher and staff salaries and raises. The district is also negotiating a new transportation contract, and while it will be less than originally anticipated, the cost to getting students to and from school is expected to increase by 20 percent.
Conrad has proposed spending $569,000 on new teachers and staff. The district hopes to hire four new elementary school teachers to ease classroom crowding, which teachers and parents agree has been a problem.
The Board of Education plans to hold a second public hearing on the revised budget in the beginning of April.