February 14, 2011

Meeting falls short of quorum requirement

Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- With much controversy over the deliberative session’s mandatory quorum in recent months, 500 was a very important number indeed on Friday night. It’s a number school district officials have been unable to reach for the past several years. And when the time came to vote Friday evening, just 446 residents filled the seats at Londonderry High School, yet again falling short of the minimum attendance needed for residents to amend warrant articles. 
“I think a lot of people are here specifically to cut the special interest groups,” resident Glenn Douglas said. 
“Can somebody give me a ticket out of here next January,” joked fellow resident Reed Clark, referring to his previous attempts to encourage his neighbors to become more active in town politics. 
By 7:30 p.m., a line of residents still snaked out the cafeteria doors, and maintenance workers rushed to set up additional chairs. A half-hour later, a scattering of additional voters continued shuffling in, and at one point 508 people reportedly filled the room. 
Apparently not believing there were enough voters present to make an impact, some left the meeting during a discussion on the operating budget. Following a resident motion to reinstate a school-tocareer councilor position to the budget, a hand-count of paper ballots revealed 446 residents remained present, thus prohibiting amendments. 
While school officials continue to await final word on the quorum’s legality, this year’s deliberative session operated in the same manner it has for the past decade. 
District Moderator John Michels said he expected the superior court would give its ruling on the quorum provisions sometimes soon, though the 500-member quorum needed to make amendments to the warrant would still stand for this year’s meeting. 
A tiff soon ensued between former town councilor Brian Farmer, one of the three residents currently challenging the quorum’s legality, and School Board member Steve Young. 
When Farmer got up to speak during public comment, Young asked him if he sued the school district. 
“To answer your question, yes, I did sue the school district,” Farmer said into the microphone. “And you have no quorum now.” 
Farmer, who continued to speak even after Michels declared him “out of order,” was escorted out of the meeting by a Londonderry police officer at the urging of Michels. Several crowd members applauded. 
With no quorum in place, school officials got down to business, tackling the previously amended operating budget of $63,222,575. If the proposed budget passes at next month’s polls, the estimated tax impact would be $14.87 per thousand dollars in residential property taxes. 
Educational taxes for a home assessed at $300,000 would total $4,461. 
Superintendent Nathan Greenberg said 87 positions have been removed from this year’s budget, a move he said is reflective of the district’s declining enrollment, as well as the current fiscal climate. 
Greenberg said the job cuts would save the district $2,757,077 in the coming fiscal year, and the coming year’s budget is more than $300,000 lower than the current year’s. 
“The cuts seem to go fairly deep this year,” resident Nancy Hendricks noted. “What kind of effects will this have in the classroom?” 
“We really tried to maintain the same level of services we’ve always had,” Greenberg replied. “One way of doing this is to restructure responsibilities.” Resident Ola Lessard said of the staff cuts, “I appreciate that this has been a very difficult budget year, but frankly the numbers I’m seeing disturb me.” 
Two pending union contracts will also be moved onto the ballot, with little resident discussion. 
A collective bargaining agreement between the school district and its support staff union, Article 3, would require the district to raise $15,595 in the coming fiscal year, with an estimated tax impact of 1 cent. The union consists of the district’s monitors, clerical assistants, office assistants, instructional assistants, special education assistants, library/media and computer assistants, bookkeepers, 504 assistants and administrative assistants. 
According to Young, the union encompasses 312 positions. Young said the new contract would eliminate the steps system, replacing it with a 1.6 percent universal cost-of-living increase. 
Article 5, a collective bargaining agreement with the district’s custodial staff union, would cost the district $54,767 in the coming fiscal year and have a tax impact of 2 cents. 
Voting on all district warrants will take place March 8 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Londonderry High School gymnasium. 

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