With its next budget, the Fall Mountain School Board is working to create a budget that balances student needs, proactive interventions, and a long-term vision with reduced state funding that places increasing burdens on local taxpayers. Here’s an excerpt of the meeting, from the Eagle Times:
A proposed budget of just over $30 million was presented to the Fall Mountain Regional School Board at its meeting Monday, giving the board the first glimpse at what the 2018-2019 budget could look like for the school district as it wrestles to maintain educational programs while contending with ever more expensive obligations and less funding from the state.
While some on the board expressed concern over the increase, others pointed to the potential to attract more students — and revenue — in the future by maintaining programs and staff.
“If [the state goes] toward school choice, we need to be the school of choice,” said School Board Secretary Mary Henry, of Langdon.
The $30,292,413 proposed default budget — which is equivalent to the approved 2017-2018 operating budget plus or minus debt service, contracts, and other non-discretionary spending — is $498,819 lower than the proposed budget of $30,791,232. Of the proposed budget, 81 percent is wages and employee benefits, and 91 percent is contractual obligations that the school district must pay, according to SAU 60 Business Administrator James Fenn’s presentation, giving administration sway over only 7 percent of the total budget.
As was the issue last year, an anticipated reduction in adequacy aid from the state will decrease the amount of revenue the school district has to work with. For the proposed budget, the school district is facing a projected $169,718 reduction — $134,980 of which comes from the Charlestown attendance area — along with a $25,020 reduction in state education tax revenue. The school district will use $263,206 from the fiscal year 2017 fund balance to reduce taxes, leaving the district with that much more to make up.
“We’re really not looking at a spending problem, we’re looking at a revenue problem,” Fenn said.
According to Fenn’s presentation, the projected state and local tax impact would be greatest for Charlestown with a jump from $24.80 to $26.73 per $1,000 property valuation — a $1.93 jump. Alstead would also feature a $1.63 jump from $17.09 to $18.72. Acworth would see a 5 cent increase, while Langdon and Walpole would see projected decreases of 43 cents and 19 cents, respectively.
School Board Chair Gabe St. Pierre, of Charlestown, and board member David Hogan, of Alstead, expressed concern over the budget increase and potential tax impact, and how that spending could be viewed by residents already struggling with high rates.
Other board members pointed toward the potential for programs to entice more students to come to the district. Vice Chair Linda Christie, of Acworth, indicated that with the state moving toward more pro-school choice initiatives, making the school attractive for potential sending families is important.
According to the presentation, enrollment has been increasing. The high school is currently bringing in 40 students from out-of-district towns, according to Landry, and enrollment at the elementary and kindergarten level is also increasing.
“We have the reputation of being a school that is student-centered,” Landry said.
A proposed expansion of two of the school’s Career and Technical Education programs — which would be done without budget impact — could be an asset in attracting more students to the district, some board members argued.
Board member Thomas Ronning, of Walpole, said that the Finance Committee had actually recommended making the proposed CTE/ELO director a full-time position. Fall Mountain Regional High School Principal Richard Towne said he opted to have the position be part-time as a cost saving measure.
“We’re trying to figure out a way to balance what we need with what we can afford,” Towne said.
With the implementation of full-day kindergarten and universal pre-kindergarten in each of the school district’s attendance areas, Henry said improved student outcomes could result in savings with fewer IEP requirements as those students reach the high school. At Alstead Primary School, for example, 23 percent of the student population were considered not proficient in math in the 2010-2011 school year. That number decreased to just below 5 percent in 2014-2015, according to data Henry shared with the board.