Sunday, February 9, 2014

Winchester voters debate spending for school district

File this under no one gives a crap ..

By Melanie Plenda Contributing Writer/Keene Sentinel

WINCHESTER — Despite efforts by some to trim the proposed school budget by $240,000, the voting body decided not to make any more cuts at Saturday’s school district deliberative session.
In all, roughly 38 voters attended the 90-minute session at Winchester School to discuss the warrant articles that will appear on the town’s ballot March 11.

The school district’s $11,182,226 budget and two collective bargaining agreements were on the agenda at Saturday’s session. The budget is up $95,686, or just under 1 percent, from the current $11,086,540 budget. The default budget is $11,296,355. Though the budget increase is slight, the amount of money to be raised by local taxes is up $413,298, or 7.8 percent, because of a drop in revenue from state sources.
Selectman Sherman Thetford Saturday proposed amending the budget to $10,942,225, saying that the town was able to cut a large amount of money from its budget and the school board was able to cut something on the order of $700,000 a few years ago.
“I believe if you sharpen your pencils a bit, you could find places to cut ... without affecting services,” Thetford said.
He said his proposed cuts would save taxpayers 75 to 80 cents on the dollar whereas the proposed school district budget could raise the tax rate $1.67 to $1.92 depending on the revenues the district takes in.

School board member Richard Horton said comparing the town budget to the school budget is not an apples-to-apples comparison. He said the district has contractual obligations that the town doesn’t have that it must meet and more personnel to contend with.
The school district’s proposed budget does reflect some savings through reassigning of job responsibilities among other changes, Lewis said in a previous interview with The Sentinel.
School Board member Elisha Jackson added members were able to cut more money in prior years because they were dealing with a larger budget at the time. But between previous local cuts and federal funding cuts, that is no longer the case.
District Superintendent James M. Lewis was asked how enrollment was looking since it’s been widely reported that other school districts in the region are seeing a drop. Lewis said Winchester is actually seeing a leveling off and a slight increase in enrollments, particularly in kindergarten. He said by way of example, two years ago they were expecting 50 students in kindergarten and ended up with 70 and last year they expected 50 and had 60.

He added that Winchester typically also has a higher special education population.
“Whatever the reason, we attract more SPED students than other districts,” he said. “And we legally have to provide services to those students.”
Jackson pointed out that costs per special education student went up this year from $26,599 per student to $29,000. She added that tuition for the district’s 177 Keene High School students also went up from $12,521 to $13,081.

School board member Bill McGrath sided with those who wanted to see more cuts. He said that last year the district made some positions full time that he wasn’t convinced needed to be. He said he has a friend who is a principal in Massachusetts at a school with 435 students and a staff of 100; whereas, he said, Winchester has 435 students and has a staff of 120.

“How can they do it in their school and we can’t do it in ours?” he asked rhetorically.
He also said he wasn’t entirely convinced that smaller class sizes were beneficial to students or necessary, saying that the state allows a maximum of 30 students per class, while some Winchester classes only have 16 or 17 students.

Voter Kenneth Whippie pointed out that 30 students per classroom is a maximum under state law, not a recommendation.
 “A small number of students doesn’t inhibit a good education, but a large number does,” Whippie said.
In the end, the amendment to cut the budget was defeated in a vote of 23 to 13. The proposed $11,182,226 budget will be on the ballot in March.

Voters Saturday also placed a two-year collective bargaining agreement with the Winchester Teachers’ Association on the ballot that would cost an additional $118,498 for the 2014-15 school year and $63,285 for the 2015-16 school year if approved. Voters would be approving both figures with a ‘yes’ vote, but only the first would go into effect this year.

School board members explained that the larger amount this year reflects pay raises in part for teachers who went out and got their master’s degrees. The higher education earned deserves more pay, they explained. They also wanted to do the raises the first year because as part of the collective bargaining agreement many teachers will see their health insurance costs go from paying 7 to 15 percent of coverage to 15 percent across the board.
 So, how many of you got a raise this year to help pay for your insurance increases?

Voters also placed on the ballot an article asking for $21,552 for salary and benefit increases for the Winchester Support Staff Association as part of another collective bargaining agreement. A similar one-year contract for the support staff barely passed at district meeting last year, with 54 percent support.
The official voting on the warrant and election of school board members will be Tuesday, March 11. The polls are open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.


Bloviatometer said...

Who is selectman Sherman "Thetford"???
Some thirty plus teachers got together in town hall yesterday and decided they deserved the best this town had to offer. School board heartily agreed and all went home very happy indeed.
Winchester taxpayers immediately ran to their computers to post about the cliques and claques that run this town and tried to find a way to blame Sharra and Ruth for the whole shebang.
By the way, none of these bloggers showed up Saturday and their input was sorely missed.

I can not take it any longer said...

See what the voters get for a free hot dog. Right Rick Horton

Anonymous said...

Complain all you want.... The budget committee and the school board recommended all the warrant articles and even if it was teachers and families, they pay taxes too! Duh!

Anonymous said...

Bloviatometer.... Obviously you did not show up because it was held at the school.

Bloviatometer said...

I DID say that none of the bloggers showed up! See you on voting day!

Anonymous said...

Blo viatometer did your horse and buggy not know how to make it down Parker Street. BOS car pooled to save tax payers money. And the budget committee recycled their notes to save safety environment. Your voice wasn't even heard. Want to be heard? Show up and speak. This forum doesn't count as a vote.

Anonymous said...

R Horton hes just a little man who wants to control the town and school..

Scratching my head said...

I believe that if people were to investigate - they would discover that cutting our budgets is not the biggest issue we are facing. Instead, its the amount of money that our town has been able to collect.

What is the amount of taxes not collected?

How much does that add to the tax base the following year?