WINCHESTER — Budgeting is never easy. But in Winchester this year, it’s off to an especially difficult start.
It is up to the budget committee to set the budget residents vote on in March; voters, however, can cut or add (up to 10 percent) to the proposal if they think it’s too high or low.
The school board’s recommended budget is $11.5 million, about $376,000, or 3.4 percent, more than the current year’s budget. It includes a $267,500 increase for special education and a $140,000 increase in special education transportation.
The district ran a $326,800 deficit for the 2010-11 school year, in part due to higher-than-anticipated special education and transportation costs.
School officials say these increases are necessary. Things like tuition to Keene High School and teachers’ salaries are contractual, said Jim Lewis, Winchester School principal. (The district has Winchester School for students in kindergarten through 8th grade; older students attend Keene High School.)
“No, I’m not happy with the budget. Me personally, I’m not happy with it at all,” he said.
The board’s recommendation also came to the budget committee too late — on Dec. 16 — for committee members to review it and have their own recommendation ready to go by Tuesday’s hearing, Moser said.
It was late in part because Winchester formed its own administrative unit and started a new accounting system this summer, said the district’s superintendent, Kenneth R. Dassau.
He agreed it would have been better to get the recommendation to the budget committee earlier, but that committee didn’t have to wait on the school board to get started on its own recommendation.
Kevan D. Whippie, who is on the school board and its representative on the budget committee, called the committee’s idea of having no budget recommendation to present “a farce.”
“The school board is not charged with spending the least you can on education,” he said. “The school board is supposed to provide an adequate education to the children of Winchester, and that costs money.”
While the budget committee hasn’t decided on exactly how much money, it has thrown out one number.
Early last month, frustrated with the school board’s slow response, the budget committee voted to set the budget at $8 million. Moser said that was a deliberately unrealistic target and set only to send the school board a message that it was taking too long.
“We know it’s not final. We know it’s going to go up,” he said.
But Dassau called the $8 million move “grossly irresponsible” and said if the budget is set that low, Winchester School would have to close.
“I think they need to be careful what statements they make as public officials.”
The budget committee has until the end of January to make its recommendation.
The Winchester School District budget hearing is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.
Abby Spegman can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1409, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Below are the email addresses of the school board members, let them know what you think about holding the town hostage to their demands.