February 5, 2010
Voters say no to school budget changes
Union Leader Correspondent

GOFFSTOWN - A capacity crowd at the Feb. 1 deliberative session narrowly defeated an amendment that would have increased the school district’s proposed budget by more than $800,000.

The proposed warrant article amendment, which voters rejected 174 to 168, would have increased the school district’s operating budget to $36.4 million – $837,529 more than the total approved by the Goffstown Budget Committee.

Philip Pancoast, School Board vice chairman and backer of the amendment, said the increase is necessary to maintain the quality of the district’s education.

“We need to somehow accomplish the goal of educating our children and similarly walking the knife’s edge between spending enough without spending too much,” Pancoast said. “It is not a challenge that changes because the economy changes.”

Voters spent several hours walking that edge, with the audience evenly divided between those siding with the School Board and others demanding cuts to the budget.

Several voters argued that the School Board’s proposed budget amounted to an unreasonable tax increase. Under the proposed amendment, the school tax rate would increase by $3.42 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The budget on the ballot would have increased the tax rate by $2.52.

David Bunton, an opponent of the amendment, said the budget increase made no sense given the current state of the economy.

“We have people in town who are on the verge of losing their homes,” Bunton said. “And I’m sorry, but because we want to keep the class size at 25 students does not justify a neighbor losing their home.”

Though voters rejected the proposed amendment, the willingness to cut did not extend to the $35.6 million budget on the ballot. Guy Caron, a member of the Budget Committee, met resistance when he introduced an amendment to lower the budget on the ballot by more than $966,000. Caron argued that the cut, which would have kept the budget flat at this year’s $34.6 million level, better reflected the realities facing taxpayers.

Fellow Budget Committee member Bill Gordon said that eliminating the School Board’s proposed 5.2 percent budget increase would not harm students.

“I’ve been through untold number of pay freezes,” Gordon said. “Five percent is not a huge number. We are not committing a crime against humanity with this number.”

On the other side, School Board member Jeffrey Tate said that reducing the budget on the ballot would be irresponsible.

“Every step of the way people have pared down this budget. Now this motion is asking you to arbitrarily take a number and remove it from the budget,” Tate said. “I don’t like my gas bill every month. If I take 10 percent off, I’m going to freeze on the last few days of every month.”

Voters eventually rejected the amendment 164 to 102, keeping the budget at the $35.6 million approved by the Budget Committee.

In other business, voters rejected a warrant article amendment that would have cut a Bartlett Elementary School Facilities Capital Reserve Fund appropriation from up to $300,000 to $1. The funds would go toward the second phase of upgrades and renovations to the school.

Town voters will be able to cast their final votes on the school district’s warrant articles on Town Election Day, Tuesday, March 9.

Article Copyright© 2010, New Hampshire Union Leader.  All Rights Reserved.


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