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Eliminating budget group focus of deliberative session

MERRIMACK &#-; There was significant discussion at Wednesday&#';s School District Deliberative Session on whether to eliminate the district&#';s budget committee, a controversial suggestion that gathered mixed reviews.Thirty-nine voters attended the one-hour meeting, with many of the participants either serving as elected officials or members of the budget committee.

“Boy, where is everybody?” asked Lynn Christensen, moderator, at the start of the meeting.The major topic of contention was a proposed petitioned article seeking to rescind the 12-member school district budget committee, and in turn increase the amount of school board members from five to seven.Tim Tenhave, former town councilor, said he supports dissolving the budget committee and allowing a larger school board to review and analyze the district budget.

“I believe it moves the district forward,” said Tenhave, maintaining it will be more efficient and also allow the school board to be more accountable for the budget.Jody Vaillancourt, former school board member, agreed, saying the budget committee is no longer necessary. If the committee was eliminated, it would enable the school board extra time to examine the spending plan and also additional time for the public to provide feedback, she said.The proposal, however, is not being supported by the budget committee or the school board.

“I am baffled by this warrant article,” said Carol Lang, member of the committee, adding there are benefits to having a budget committee that are being overlooked.The school board is busy dealing with policy issues and other vital matters, said Lang, explaining the budget committee provides an independent set of eyes watching school district expenses. If the panel was eliminated, she argued there would be less diversity of opinions offered on the budget.Stan Heinrich, another member of the committee, echoed Lang&#';s concerns.

Prudent expenditures need to be reviewed by as many people as possible, said Heinrich, adding the committee has always done its due diligence.After several unsuccessful amendment attempts, the petitioned article was moved forward and will be presented to voters as originally proposed.

Also on the ballot next month is the school district&#';s proposed operating budget of $68,815,621, which represents about a 2.6 percent increase over the existing budget of nearly $67 million.Two full-time teaching positions will be eliminated from the district under the proposed budget, mostly due to declining enrollment projections. The proposed spending plan recommends transferring one teaching position from Reeds Ferry Elementary School to James Mastricola Elementary School, along with eliminating a second-grade teaching position at Reeds Ferry and a second-grade teaching position at Thorntons Ferry Elementary School.Also on the warrant is a recommendation to enter into a four-year lease agreement for the purpose of converting Merrimack High School, the Mastricola school complex and the district&#';s maintenance building from fuel oil to natural gas at a cost of $187,639 for the first year.Election day is April 8. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at James Mastricola Upper Elementary School.

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