At their Jan. 16 school budget public meeting, the School Board approved sending a $78,875,263 general fund-operating budget forward to the town’s school deliberative and final voting sessions.
Superintendent of Schools, Scott Laliberte initiated the school budget process last November with his recommended budget guidelines and with an imperative for the budget to be fiscally responsible. In addition, the Superintendent directed budget work to be suitably balanced, so the district could properly meet classroom needs as well as keep all key programs and services going. The school board put together a series of workshops that arrived at the numbers that were set at this public hearing.
Board members began this public hearing with an overview of the operating budget and then read each warrant article for the attendees, while looking for feedback from the members, the Budget Committee and the public. The Board circled back towards the end of this session, after the warrant articles discussion, to finalize the operating budget numbers.
Londonderry voters will have an opportunity to reflect further on the proposed school budget and additional warrant articles at the School District’s deliberative session on Friday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. that will be held in the Londonderry High School cafeteria. Residents attending this public hearing voiced concerns and support, as well as raised questions about the proposed FY 2021 operating budget number. Residents also provided comments on a list of warrant articles involving cafeteria food services, budgeting processes, union contracts, asbestos issues, school building maintenance and technology that will all come forward for final voting in March.
One of the warrant articles that will go to voters is about a school charter change that will alter how the district calculates the default budget. Another article calls for $3,142,000 to be allocated for the district’s school lunch program as well as related federal projects. This article would actually have no tax impact upon residents, but does require voter approvals.
An amendment was made by the Board to change an article for voter approved funding that dates back to 1995. This special article relates to one-time capital costs for district facilities including paving, roof work and heating system boilers. This new article reduces the School Buildings Maintenance Expendable Trust Fund from a proposed $650,000 down to $600,000.
Some of the more important article requests are needed to support student/staff academic and productivity efforts. This includes an amount of $150,000 to be allocated to Equipment Capital Reserve Fund for the district to use for essential small equipment additions for classrooms, offices, technology and buildings and grounds. $125,000 is requested for the School District Technology Network Infrastructure Fund. This funding area was established in 2019 to provide resources for IT equipment and services for the district’s network infrastructure including network routers, wiring, connecting hardware, and switches/hubs.
The IT and technology support requests are key for several district needs, as not all of the Londonderry schools have enough bandwidth support. What is currently deployed is limited by the current infrastructure that is outdated to support proper networking requirements needed today. This means networking usage for long distance learning, research, multimedia and communications is too often bottle necked and network access is impeded. High School SATs require live Internet access this year and it is key to support district students with networks that don’t impede their academic efforts.
One of the warrants is an easement request that if approved will authorize easement rights for Sanborn Crossing Apartments Limited Partnership as part of a water and sewer work project that is being done in the area. The space for this easement consists of a strip of land 20-feet wide that extends 10 feet by North Elementary School.
There is currently an asbestos hazard involving office areas at Matthew Thornton Elementary School that requires funding, so there is a request of $150,000 to support additional asbestos removal efforts. District Business Administrator, Peter Curro, said, “This work is expensive, but it is well worth the district’s money to approve this.” Voters approved an article for asbestos removal in 2017 and more work is necessary to get rid of the asbestos still in place.
There are two warrant articles involving union contracts – one is for a 3-year contract with the Londonderry Custodians AFSCME Local 1801 and there is also an updated bargaining agreement with Londonderry support staffing.
After the deliberative session on Feb. 7, voting for the school budget and related school district warrant articles will be set for Election Day on Tuesday, March 10. Voting will be held at the Londonderry High School gymnasium from 6 a.m. – 8 p.m. Voters on that day will also support choosing two school board members for three-year terms.