NEWPORT — The proposed Newport School District operating budget for 2020-21 at 9 a.m. Saturday stood at $21,012,925 at the outset of the annual Deliberative Session.
When it officially ended at 2:10 p.m. it had been trimmed down by $1.2 million to $19,812,925.
Nearly 200 Newport voters filled the high school gymnasium and patiently awaited the start of the scheduled 9 a.m. meeting, held up a bit by voters still in line to be officially checked in by the three Supervisors of the Checklist.
The new operating budget number reflected a net increase of $423,943 plus $25,000 to cover an appropriation if passed by voters to be added to the Special Education Capital Reserve Fund bringing the total increase to $448,943.
If that figure meets with approval of voters on Tuesday, March 10, the school district tax rate is projected to increase by just over $1 per $1,000 of property valuation.
Before the operating budget article was even discussed, however, Bert Spaulding Sr. went to the podium and suggested Article 9 be aired first. And voters agreed.
That article sought $200,000 or 46 cents on the tax rate to be utilized for the anticipated deficit reduction facing the school district. “It is not frugal to vote on the operating budget when we don’t know what the budget is,” he said.
In the end voters approved leaving $1 in Article 9 to cover unanticipated expenditures, effectively reducing the $200,000 request down to nothing.
“We tried to get the numbers to be accurate. Our goal was to try to find additional ways to keep the deficit at $200,000 or less,” said Superintendent of Schools Brendan Minnihan. He said the school district is now on a full expense freeze. We have to do it,” he added.
Article 3, introduced by Rhonda Callum-King, vice chairman of the school board, offered an amendment to Article 3 that would have cut the original operating budget request back to $20,300,000.
At that point, Newport Selectman Todd Fratzel offered an amendment to Callum-King’s amendment which requested an additional $487,075 reduction. Voters backed Fratzel’s motion, 100-89.
On a second vote, following much discussion, the article was supported again with its lower number, 110-72.
“This School District underfunded its FICA this year,” said School Board Treasurer Robert Scott. “There may not be another school district in the entire country that underfunded FICA,” he added.
“In my opinion we have at lease $1 million in defici3encies,” Scott continued.
Spaulding said the School District had to go to the town for extra money to meet its payroll obligation during the Christmas season. “The school board did not stay in the bounds of the budget wee gave them,” Spaulding suggested.
Lisa Ferrigno, co-president of the Newport Teachers Association, said the school district gave back $468,000 to the town to help reduce overall property taxes.
Minnihan explained funds needed by the school district in the next fiscal year could to cover the budget cuts might equate to eliminating two teaching positions or six para professionals.
The school district cannot spend more than voters approve, said Dan Cherry.
“The New Hampshire Department of revenue Administration will add any budget deficit to the tax rate if it exists at the end of the year,” said Paul Brown, Town of Newport Finance Director, “I’ve never seen that happen.”
Before proposing his budget amendment, Fratzel complimented the teachers on the Newport District. “The education of students and financers of the district are most important. I’m tired of hearing people say we have a poor district,” he added. “At risk is the financial destruction of this district.”
“This runaway train has to stop. We have to find out what has happened. There is no idea where the money is but they’ll figure it out,” Fratzel said.
With 962 students and 201 positions, “it is not just the numbers, it’s things you have to have,” School Board Chairman Linda Wadensten stated.
“We need your leadership,” she told the audience. “We need the community all together.”
Seth Wilner, a member of the Newport Budget Committee, did not agree with comments made by Kurt Minich . “We do not need to be a community that battles itself,” he emphasized. “We need a model we can afford. I think this budget will be worth supporting with the amendment by Fratzell. That’s the reason I support it. We need a change in the model.
“Listen to the facts with an open mind and vote no on cuts,” said Melissa Mitchler, co-president of the Newport Teachers Association. “Give the administration time to make decisions. If ewe cut $1.2 million from the budget wee will have to increase class sizes in the district,” she added.
“I was going to try to make an amendment but apparently only men can do that,” said Ferrigno as she walked past School District Moderator Howard Dunn on the way back to her seat.
According to numbers revealed on a screen at the front of the gymnasium, some of the proposed increases included in the original budget follow:
Change in Newport staff for salaries and benefits, $159,501.
Change in other salaries and benefits, $71,510.
Contracted services and software, $57,765.
Legal and audit, $16,084.
Contracted services, building maintenance, $75,849.
Water, sewer, trash, snow removal, $15,899.
Building supplies, $33,620.
Contracted services, planning and engineering career technical center, $4,500.
All other changes, $26,005.