Jaffrey-Rindge voters reject budget cut proposal, increase budget by $89,500
Published: 02-08-2024 11:06 AM
Modified: 02-09-2024 3:21 PM
Jaffrey and Rindge voters increased the proposed school budget by $89,500, the cost to fund a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teacher at Rindge Memorial School, during the district’s deliberative session on Wednesday night.
The district’s budget was proposed originally at $31.77 million, or a 3.3% increase from last year’s budget. The default budget is $31.9 million. The default budget reflects last year’s budget, plus contracted increases and minus one-time expenses, and goes into place should the proposed budget fail.
Jaffrey resident and Select Board member Franklin Sterling moved to amend the article to eliminate the language regarding the default budget, and direct the district to hold a special meeting should the budget fail. Sterling said voters should not be “held hostage to a higher default budget if our conscience doesn’t allow for us to vote for the proposed budget.” Moderator Bob Schaumann did not allow the amendment to move to vote, as state law requires a default budget to be included.
Following the failure of that amendment, Roberta Oeser of Rindge made a proposal to cut the budget, proposing a final number of $31,278,543, or $500,000 less than the proposed budget, suggesting that the district has routinely had a surplus of over $1 million each year for at least the last several years. Oeser added that as the district had seen a “astronomical” increase in the previous year, the proposed budget should endeavor to be as flat as possible.
“It’s not sustainable,” Oeser said. “We’re going to tax people out of their homes.”
Kevin Swift of Jaffrey called the proposal an “irresponsible cut to a very carefully crafted budget.”
The amendment failed in a ballot vote, with 112 no votes to 23 yes votes.
The final proposed amendment to the budget was made by Wendy Charles, who proposed adding $89,500 to the budget, for a final number of $31,863,043, for the STEM teacher at Rindge Memorial School. The teacher was one of the potential additions cut from the budget in planning stages this year.
“I don’t think that was necessary,” Charles said.
The amendment passed in a 69-36 hand-count vote.
The proposed teachers’ contract passed without any discussion from the audience, after a brief outline of the updated contract conditions from School Board member Nathan Flowers. The contract is a three-year deal, with increases of $557,275 in the first year, $513,259 in the second and $500,836 in the third.
The audience also offered no objection to an article requesting $50,000 for the special education contingency reserve, used for unanticipated costs related to special education. School Board member Lisa Wiley said approval of the article would bring the fund up to the district’s goal of $500,000.
“This can go very quickly, very suddenly,” Wiley said, as a student moving into district mid-year could result in costs of up to several hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single student.
A petition article, put forth by Oeser, originally called for neighboring pieces of land on Route 202, straddling both towns and owned by the district, to be sold at public auction, with the proceeds used to defray the district’s budget in equal amounts over three years.
Oeser said when the land was purchased 30 years ago with an eye for the eventual site of a school building, it made sense, although she said the land should have been subdivided and only a portion retained for future use. However, she said more-recent proposals for the land, such as building a career and technical center, would only inflate a budget she said was already too inflated for the towns to support.
“We can’t afford our budget now,” Oeser said.
Oeser proposed an amendment to the article, which would have added language to include that the auction would include a reserve of $175,000 each on the parcels, but that amendment failed by voice vote.
Jaffrey resident Kevin Chamberlain clarified with school officials and the district’s counsel that the article could not be enacted specifically as written, because the district does not have the authority to hold on to the funds to disperse in equal amounts over three years, which was confirmed. The district’s counsel also gave his legal opinion that if passed, the article would be advisory only, because the voters do not have statutory right to direct the sale of district property.
An amendment offered by Jaffrey resident Owen Houghton made the question moot, however, as he moved to amend the article to reflect an “advisory view” that the district retain the properties, rather than sell them.
Houghton called the properties a “significant investment, which should be retained for future possibilities.”
The article passed in a voice vote, with a smattering of nays.
Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172, Ext. 244, or email@example.com. She’s on X @AshleySaariMLT.