By APRIL GUILMET
Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- With no final resolution in sight following last month’s state superior court ruling on the school district quorum’s unconstitutionality, the Londonderry School Board banded with local legislators Tuesday night to began tackling yet another touchy topic: the state budget.
During Tuesday’s School Board meeting, all five board members arrived about 20 minutes late to the public meeting after convening in private with district attorneys.
Finding a legislative response to the court’s decision, something school officials are still hoping might be an option, has thus far proven an exercise in futility, board members said.
On March 15, Judge Tina Nadeau issued a ruling in the plaintiffs’ favor, following what’s become an unpleasant, three-month legal battle between the Londonderry School District and three dissenting citizens: Al Baldasaro, a state representative; Brian Farmer, a former town councilor; and Sean O’Keefe, acting Town Council chairman.
“Unfortunately, there isn’t a final resolution yet,” Chairman John Robinson said at the start of last night’s public meeting. The board planned on discussing the topic further, in private, immediately following Monday’s public meeting.
In the meantime, the school district will likely be left with no choice but to cough up upwards of $10,000 in court fees for the three residents who challenged the constitutionality of the district’s 500-member deliberative session quorum this past winter.
“I think the question of whether or not we pay this amount will likely be determined when we decide whether or not to appeal this decision,” Robinson said.
That amount pales in comparison to the financial implications posed by the coming year’s state budget, which was recommended by the House Finance Committee last week. A number of local legislators attended last night’s meeting at the School Board’s invitation to offer their insights on the district’s financial obligations should the budget changes ultimately come to pass.
State Reps. Robert Introne, David Lundgren, Dan Tamburello, Al Baldasaro, Karen Hutchinson, Stella Tremblay and Betsy McKinney, along with Sen. Sharon Carson, were seated in the audience.
“We asked them to come here tonight because there are just so many issues at play right now,” Robinson said.
Carson said the budget has gone into crossover status over the past several days.
“The governor has spoken and the House has spoken. Now the senate is in the process of holding hearings,” Carson said. “It’s a series of public hearings taking input from different stakeholders.”
On Feb. 15, Gov. John Lynch revealed his proposed new $10.7 billion budget plan, which includes millions of dollars worth of budget cuts, including a reduction in state reimbursements for teacher, police and firefighter retirements from 35 percent to zero.
Last night, Superintendent Nathan Greenberg warned that if nothing changes, the district would be legally obligated to pay out $1,382,000 in retirement costs in the coming fiscal year
“That’s going to leave a signifi cant number of holes as far as faculty and administration. We’re going to have to start looking at cutting programs,” Greenberg said.
With the district’s budget season already passed, Greenberg said the situation is dire, with the district looking at 106 fewer employees in the coming fiscal year.
The district would need to cut an additional 14 teachers in order to absorb the state budget cuts next year should the changes get passed.
The school district has 900 employees. Town Councilor John Farrell, who sat in the audience during last night’s meeting, said the town side is in a similar position. Londonderry would be laying off approximately 10 percent of its municipal employees should the state budget, as presented, come to pass.
Greenberg said: “I realize the house has returned some catastrophic and building aid. The big concern for us was the governor’s proposal going down to zero percent as far as the state picking up retirement costs. The fact that we would be legally obligated to pay $1,382,000 means we have to hold that amount aside. What the senate could do to put that money back in, I think, would be of significant import to us, since it has a significant, signifi cant impact.”
Greenberg added that should the school district opt to hold a special meeting to address the budget changes, it wouldn’t be feasible until August.
“If the retirement hole is not filled, if the state does not pick up at 35 percent, than we’re still legally obligated to pay that money,” he said. “So if you look at our appropriations as a sealant, we have to find that money within the $63 million we already have. The only way to do that is to cut staff and programs.”
School Board Vice Chairman John Laferriere expressed frustration over the state’s budgetary timeline.
“If we had some forewarning about what was going to happen, to at least have some insight come down to use when we were in our budget process, that would have been extremely helpful,” he said. “Now we’re legally locked, and it’s very frustrating.”
Carson replied: “This is something I hear consistently from school boards and town councils. At this point, I can’t give you accurate information and that’s a problem. It’s the way our government is set up.”
Board member Ron Campo said he hoped the state might ultimately find a way to appropriate aid to districts such as Londonderry, making it unnecessary for the slashing of additional programs.
“If we wait until next year, in October and November, two months are already gone. They’re not coming back,” Campo said.