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Manchester school budget sent along to aldermen

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 27. 2014 11:12PM

MANCHESTER — The Board of School Committee on Thursday voted to officially send the $160 million budget proposed by Superintendent Debra Livingston to the aldermen.

The vote came after a public hearing on the budget, which is required under the city charter. Unlike in past years, the hearing was sparsely attended; only one person rose to speak.

The $160 million budget for the 2014-2015 school year is $3.3 million higher than last year's, the maximum increase allowable under the tax cap. The budget would maintain current staffing levels, while spending an additional $145,000 to expand full-day kindergarten citywide, $436,000 for staffing and improvements at the Manchester School of Technology (MST), and more than $700,000 to hire five more assistant principals. Livingston, who presented the budget to the school board on Monday, said it would allow the district to meet minimum state standards for class sizes.

Two votes were cast against the budget: Art Beaudry, Ward 9, and Chris Stewart, Ward 3.

Beaudry said he didn't think the budget sufficiently funded improvements at MST as it transitions to a four-year high school; he questioned whether it could bring down class sizes to within state standards. Earlier in the month, the administration revealed that close to 80 middle school classes were over the limit of 30 students per teacher.

Beaudry also noted that the budget didn't take into account the ongoing negotiations with the city teachers union, which is currently working without a contact. "There is nothing in the budget to allow us any wiggle room to negotiate in good faith," he said.

Stewart said after the meeting that he didn't think the budget adequately funded teacher training, infrastructure and technology.

The final budget for the school district is determined by the aldermen. On Monday, Mayor Ted Gatsas will present both his school and city budgets; aldermen will spend the next several weeks reviewing the spending plans.

Ward 10 school board member John Avard said at the meeting that it wasn't the time to debate specific components of Livingston's budget.

"To be clear, we're voting on a tax-cap-based number; we are not approving specific line items, and we reserve the right to alter line items, after the number comes back from the aldermen," he said.

The one person who spoke during the public hearing was Patrice Bernard. She said she felt salaries and benefits, which make up 74 percent of the district's budget, are too generous. She questioned the wisdom of funding citywide full-day kindergarten.

"Maybe rather than full-day day care, you can have more teachers in the first, second and third grades," she said.

Another public hearing on the city and school budgets will be held before aldermen next week.

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