January 15, 2009
Petition article would allow Budget Committee to set school budget


GOFFSTOWN – A resident wants to strip the Goffstown School Board of some of its budget powers in the hope that spending will become lower.

Guy Caron, chairman of the 450-plus member Goffstown Residents Association, is backing a petitioned article on the March ballot to make the Budget Committee set the default budget instead of the School Board. The default is what the schools would spend for 2009-10 if the budget proposed by the School Board is voted down.

Caron wants the Budget Committee handling the default because he – as well as some members who have signed his petition – believes the committee would come up with a number that is considerably less than what the School Board has.

  •  Budget Committee Chairman Dan Cloutier calculates what default budget SHOULD be

If the committee reduces the default number, Caron thinks the proposed number from the School Board will be lower too.

“If that default budget becomes more realistic, then the School Board’s budgets will become more realistic,” Caron said.

A similar measure failed in 2006, but Caron has a hunch that this year is different.

“I think that the circumstances are quite a bit different this year than they were in ’06,” he said. “I think it’s not business as usual anymore and I think the school department is trying to do business as usual.”

The School Board estimated its default for next year at $34.3 million, which is slightly higher than its proposal of $34.2 million, according to School Board Chairman Keith Allard. The proposed budget would result in a new tax rate of $11.83 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The current 2008 rate is $10.69, according to Allard.

At the new rate, the owner of a $300,000 home would be paying $342 more in local school taxes.

This year, the Board of Selectmen set a goal of reaching a budget that would not cause any increases in tax payments to the town. The board had to cut more than $1 million in one-time projects and stick to a default budget in order to reach that goal. Caron said he had not seen a similar effort from the School Board.

The formula for calculating the default budget is explained in state law. It is done by taking the appropriations from the previous year, subtracting one-time expenses, and adding debt payments, contracts and other legal obligations.

Allard and Budget Committee Chairman Dan Cloutier differ on their interpretation of what state law says about calculating the default budget. Cloutier said the School Board calculation would, for example, provide the same amount of heating oil, but spending could be higher if the price has gone up. His method, on the other hand, would retain the same amount of spending on heating oil, even if that means fewer gallons can be purchased.

Allard said the School Board used the same method that the Board of Selectmen does. He said its default budgets have been reviewed by the Department of Revenue Administration (DRA) which has offered clarification on how the state law should be interpreted. Cloutier is neutral on the petitioned article.

“If the duty is voted by the Goffstown public, or the citizens, the Budget Committee will do its duty and come up with the (default) budget,” Cloutier said. “To me, what difference does it make who does it, because you should come up with the same number.”

Allard, however, opposes having the Budget Committee set the default because he is concerned members might not be “educated” on it. He cited a Dec. 16 meeting where at least one committee member said she did not understand the School Board’s proposed budget. Other members have asked for more information.

“How can we ask someone to set the default for us when a good number of their members say they don’t understand our budget?” Allard asked.

He said the lack of understanding could be because the committee did not review the school budget line by line, had only a few members tour the schools, and had only one member sit in on daytime budget meetings between the principals and superintendent.

The petition, which has well above the necessary 25 signatures, has the names of some Budget Committee members, including John Hikel and Christi Garrison. Garrison said putting the Budget Committee in charge of calculating the default would create more checks and balances on the process. But Allard said the budget is reviewed on several levels – from principals to superintendent to School Board – and is checked by the DRA.


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