Chester School Budget Shows 3 Percent Increase

CHESTER – No changes were made to the Chester school district’s 2014-2015 budget proposal at the school board’s first public review of the numbers.
The working numbers show a 2.97 percent increase in expenditures, a number that surprised board members, given significant increases in what they call non-discretionary spending, especially a tuition rate increase from Pinkerton Academy that alone would almost cover a 3 percent increase to the budget.

The budget proposal presented Wednesday, Dec. 4, shows $345,654 in increased spending over the current year’s number.
Pinkerton recently advised sending towns of tuition increases in both regular education and special education. In regular education there is a 4.9 percent rise, amounting to about $500 per student. Between both regular and special education, the tuition increase represents about $301,000 in additional costs for Chester with current population estimates, $232,000 of that number from regular education.
The new tuition rate for regular education totals $10,796.83, up from $10,292.49.
School board members had little to say on the increase at last week’s meeting, though Mike Romick did express shock at the new numbers.
Also up in the 2014-2015 budget proposal are healthcare, by $85,000, and transportation, by $28,451.
According to the numbers presented last week, discretionary spending was greatly reduced, an effort that mitigated the impact of the numbers the district, and ultimately taxpayers, have no control over.
No single line had drastic reductions, but a thousand dollars here and there added up significantly, according to administration.
Other significant decreases came in the special education budget.
Some savings are the result of a decision not to rehire a curriculum coordinator, as the current holder of that position is set to retire next year. Principal Leslie Leahy explained that between herself and vice principal Karen Lacroix and other efforts within the school, they can do without the position. The salary for that role is $50,000 plus benefits, bringing the current cost past $75,000.
The budget would leave $20,000 in the line for curriculum support services.
Leahy and superintendent Jim Gaylord suggested using some of that savings to create a technology director position, but school board members had doubts about the decision. They built $30,000 into that position, with the caveat that one of the two technology assistant positions would be eliminated.
The current holder of the second technology assistant position recently gave her notice.
Both Leahy and Gaylord noted that the $30,000 was a starting figure and they were hesitant to move forward with the hire’s specifics without board approval.
Romick was skeptical that the school could find a quality individual for that salary, but wondered whether it was a necessary staff addition, especially in light of the financial commitment new staff places on the district in insurance benefits.
Leahy said that while the day-to-day technology work is handled well by the technology assistants and Daystar, an Information Technology contractor hired last year to take care of upper tier technology needs, there’s no one whose job is overseeing the big picture or having a vision as to where the school needs to go with technology. She said she and others do their best to handle it now, but it’s an area that doesn’t have the expertise it needs.
Both Romick and chair Royal Richardson suggested it was worth looking into a consultant for the work, and the board plans to put out a Request for Proposal for the job before making a decision as to how to move forward.
Also notable in the budget proposal is a reduction in revenue from the state legislature’s continued efforts to reduce costs in Concord. That downshifting of costs from the state to towns and school districts is impacting local towns in their recent tax bills, and looks like it will again have an impact in the coming year’s local school rate.
The board and administration still have a couple of review sessions ahead of them, as the budget isn’t set to be finalized on their end and sent to the budget committee for further review until Jan. 10.

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