Souhegan Co-op School District $18.1 budget heads to Deliberative Session

AMHERST – An unusually light warrant bearing just two cost-related items drew no questions or comments from the two dozen or so residents at last week’s public hearing of the Souhegan Cooperative School District’s proposal for fiscal 2015.

The main article, the proposed operating budget, is set at $18.1 million for the coming year, a figure that represents a roughly $141,000, or 0.8 percent, increase over the current budget.

The other article calls for a $65,000 appropriation from the year-end undesignated fund balance to augment the school maintenance fund.

The warrant gets another airing at 9 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 1, when the Deliberative Session convenes at Souhegan High School.

All items will be considered by voters at Town Meeting on Tuesday, March 11. Amherst residents vote at Souhegan High School from 6 a.m.-8 p.m., while Mont Vernon voters go to the Village School from 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

The Cooperative School District governs Souhegan High School, which is attended by students living in Amherst and Mont Vernon. Its school board is made up of seven members, five from Amherst and two from Mont Vernon.

This year, three school board seats are up for election, two for Amherst residents and one for a Mont Vernon resident.

The Amherst seats coming open are currently held by Fran Harrow and board Chairwoman Mary Lou Mullens, while Pim Gronstra’s Mont Vernon seat is up for election. All are three-year terms.

Should the proposed budget pass, Amherst residents would see a tax increase of 32 cents per $1,000 valuation, which for a home assessed at $330,000 would mean an increase of about $105 per year.

In Mont Vernon, residents would see an increase of 69 cents per $1,000 valuation, which would mean a hike of $207 per year for a home assessed at $300,000.

Passing the school maintenance trust article would raise those increases by 3 cents per $1,000 valuation in Amherst and 4 cents per $1,000 in Mont Vernon, or about $10 per year for a $330,000 Amherst home and $12 per year for a $300,000 Mont Vernon home.

If the budget is voted down, the district would revert to the $17.7 million default budget, which would raise Amherst residents’ property taxes by 22 cents per $1,000 valuation and Mont Vernon residents’ taxes by 58 cents per $1,000 valuation.

Souhegan goes into fiscal 2015 with 3.5 fewer full-time positions, of which 2.5 are teaching posts and the other one a paraprofessional.

No educational programs were affected.

The main drivers in the budget increase include nearly $120,000 to fund the second year of a two-year teacher contract that voters approved last year, and $186,000 in bond payments slated for the coming year.

The Souhegan Advisory Finance Committee voted 5-2 to recommend that voters approve the budget. The two dissenting members, Chairman David Chen said, cited costs related to special education.

The committee unanimously recommended passage of the maintenance fund article, which, if passed, would bring the fund’s balance to about $154,000.

School board member Howard Brown said adding to the fund is important because the district will soon need to replace the Souhegan High track, which he said is falling into disrepair. The estimated replacement cost is $225,000, he said.