February 17, 2011

Hits to district keep on coming

Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- With budget woes and a lawsuit challenging the 500-member deliberative session quorum, the Londonderry School District now has yet another obstacle to contend with: the state budget.
During the Feb. 15 School Board meeting, just hours after Gov. John Lynch announced the state’s newly proposed budgeting plan and a few days after the district held its deliberative session, Londonderry Superintendent Nathan Greenberg predicted a tough road ahead for the local school district.
“The bottom line is, we’re playing a little bit of a shell game with funding,”
 Greenberg said this week. 

On Tuesday, the governor revealed his proposed new $10.7 billion budget plan, which includes millions of dollars in budget cuts and plans to reduce adequacy funding for all but the most financially challenged communities, as well as a reduction in retirement funding. 
Greenberg said the challenges implied by the proposed state cuts are twofold, since the district would not only be faced with a loss of state reimbursement for teacher retirements but could at the same time lose muchneeded revenue. 
With state reimbursements for teacher, police and firefighter retirements facing a reduction from 35 percent to zero, Londonderry’s school district would need to come up with an additional $1,382,000 to cover anticipated teacher retirements. 
“So we’ve already budgeted with the understanding the state would pick up 35 percent of those costs,” Greenberg said yesterday. “This now means the district will have to reduce another $1,382,000 in order to meet legal obligations for retirement costs.” 
On the revenue side, things look equally bleak. 
Since drastic reductions in state building aid are anticipated, Greenberg said the district stands to lose a total of $347,626, while cuts to catastrophic aid would mean another $333,482 in losses, resulting in $881,108 in revenue losses in the coming fiscal year. 
“That obviously is compounded by the retirement funds we now have to pay,” Greenberg emphasized. “So we’re losing revenue, and at the same time have to fund retirements that the state should have picked up.” 
As Londonderry school officials ponder the future, two legislative bills are in the works that lend question to the proposed state budget’s outcome.
“Both bills are designed to allow districts to receive the same adequacy funding they’ve received the previous year,” Greenberg said. “For us, that number is $1.6 million.” 
Figure in the pending reduction in revenues, however, that number would soon be reduced to around $900,000. However, as it stands now, that money can’t be legally applied toward retirement expenses without obtaining voters’ approval during a special school district meeting. 
“And even if that did happen, we’d still come up short $400,000 in revenues,” Greenberg said. “Best case scenario, we’d still need $400,000 in excess of the district budget we came out with during last week’s deliberative session.” 
As it stands now, a proposed district-wide operating budget of $63,222,575 will be presented to voters at next month’s polls. If the proposed budget passes, the estimated tax impact would be $14.87 per thousand dollars in residential property taxes. 
“Since we’ve already been to deliberative session, right now the only place that money can come from is the taxpayer,” Greenberg said. “Without a special meeting, the only other place it could come from is services in the school district. That means teachers.” 
While the final outcome of the proposed state budget won’t really be revealed until later this spring, when the numbers are finalized, district officials are left with no choice but to brace themselves for the worst. 
Though a special district meeting is still a possibility for this coming summer, Greenberg admitted, “right now, it’s very muddy what are numbers actually will be.” 
“For now, we may have to issue a reduction in force for the coming school year,” he added. 
The district is already facing cuts of 87 district positions, which are reflected in the current proposed district budget. However, additional staff cuts may be inevitable. 
Usually, the district issues teacher contracts for the coming school year each April. 
“Unfortunately, this year we may have to hold off on issuing contracts to a number of people,” Greenberg said, though he added its still too early to tell exactly which positions, or how many, could face the final cut. 
“We’re kind of looking at $2 million of ‘I don’t know.’ If in fact we’re in a position to have a special school district meeting, by the time you run legally required timelines, you’re into July, easily,” he added. “It’s obviously very unsettling. It’s bad enough to tell people we can’t keep their job.” 
Greenberg said he plans to meet with the School Board during next week’s February vacation, to map out a more definite plan. A further plan of action should be in place within the coming month. 

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