Has the Budget Committee’s Public Hearing Set the Tone for the Deliberative Session?
January 19, 2018
by Len Lathrop
After months of meetings and listening to school administrators, school board members, town department heads, and selectmen, the Hudson Budget Committee set forth its final numbers and supporting ideas, which were subjected to public input last Wednesday. While on the same night, this public hearing treats the town and school sides separately, and, as the school district is the first deliberative session this year, that ballot was reviewed first.
Budget Committee Chairman Ted Trost opened the meeting and Vice Chairman Normand Martin read the warrant articles to the audience and the viewing public.
On the school ballot, the first two questions deal with the renovation and addition at Alvirne High School and the Wilbur H. Palmer Vocational Technical Center. As expected, these drew the most public input of the evening. Question 1 addresses renovation with additions to the Palmer Center.
The Budget Committee entered into this hearing supporting this warrant article 9-2-0. “Shall the Hudson School District raise and appropriate the sum of $25,262,500 for the design, construction, and equipping of additions and renovations to the Wilbur H. Palmer Vocational Technical Center, and authorize the School Board to accept a grant or grants of $17,000,000 from the State of New Hampshire and/ or any other federal, state, or other aid which may be available for said project; and further authorize the School Board to issue not more than $8,262,500.”
Three different speakers from the public stated that the CTE renovations are long overdue as renovation is needed to bring the building up to the 21st century. Laurie Blanchard highlighted how the CTE program attracts Hudson residents to get training to allow many students to work in jobs that pay well directly after high school. Local companies hire Alvirne graduates after successful completion of building trades courses and other fields of study within the CTE program. Through the CTE program, Alvirne graduates who take health science classes become certified licensed nursing assistants. Many stay within the community and work locally while commuting to further their education in health care.
Brian Lindsey spoke that he was not 100 percent in favor of the CTE plan. He feels that the original building built after the fire in 1975 also needs improvement and the school district should have a plan to tear the building down and start new. He stated at the hearing that he was willing to pay double the increase in tax for a completely new school.
Steve Beals, principal of Alvirne and co-chair of the renovation committee, explained that, with the operating budget and with the support of the Alvirne trustees, numerous classrooms and science labs have been renovated during every summer break for the past several years.
Lindsey asked about the $17 million in state aid. Beals explained that the Hudson project is number one in the funding queue as the White Mountain District has put off its plan for another year. This biannual request was less than past state budgets where $28 million was granted to Salem, Dover and Rochester. With $4 million due to Rochester, adding Hudson’s $17 million brings the total to only $21 million.
If the voters of Hudson were to not authorize this project, the school board could return to voters with the same proposal next year; however, Principal Beals stated that this would postpone renovations from starting until June of 2020.
Next Warrant Article 2 was presented. “If, and only if, Warrant Article 1 passes, shall the Hudson School District vote to raise and appropriate the sum of $21,825,000 for the design, construction, and equipping of additions and renovations to Alvirne High School and further authorize the School Board to issue not more than $21,825,000.”
Much of the discussion of the second warrant article focused on safety of the building. Many residents expressed their concerns about how the current Alvirne main entrance has only a small check-in desk. Visitors must then proceed through hallways filled with classrooms or the cafeteria to access the main office. Mary Jo Gasdia explained that there were 39 doors in Alvirne and that, in a very few steps, you are into the always occupied cafeteria/study hall. She continued, while this is Hudson, trouble can happen anywhere, and that, while we care about everyone, safety cannot be overlooked. She mentioned that staff has been trained in A.L.I.C.E. (‘Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate’ active shooter training), but not the students, should they just “run like cattle.” Gasdia expressed her support for spending “159 bucks (the estimated annual tax increase for a typical Hudson home) for something important. We are into 2018 and need to get going; we are way behind.”
Selectman Chair Ted Luszey spoke to the budget committee, stating that safety should be number 1, and, if the security at Alvirne is as bad as presented, changes at the high school should be addressed now and not be dependent on articles 1 and 2 passing.
Diana LaMothe spoke about how the Alvirne parking lot is dangerous with numerous cars and buses entering and leaving at the same time; the parking situation would be renovated if Warrant Article 2 were to pass as it would turn part of the existing Alvirne parking lot into a gymnasium and the current gym would become a theater. Speakers stated that an auditorium and gymnasium are all a part of a well-rounded education. Both facilities, the auditorium and gymnasium, could also be utilized by the Hudson community.
A community member questioned whether the proposed renovation would allow Alvirne to keep up with changing technology and suggested that a brand-new school would be a better option. Principal Beals responded that larger space and electrical work would allow future technology to be used in classrooms within the CTE wing. He stated that the project is fiscally responsible for Hudson as the renovations in Articles 1 and 2 cost $47 million. The recent renovations to Salem High School and Dover High School cost $75 million and $85 million, respectively.
Another speaker addressed declining enrollment and that we must have great schools and facilities in order to both attract and keep families in Hudson.
The meeting moved to Article 3, which is the school’s operating budget. “Shall the Hudson School District vote to raise and appropriate as an operating budget, not including appropriations by special warrant article and other appropriations voted separately, the amounts set forth on the budget posted with the warrant or as amended by the vote at the first session for the purposes set forth therein, totaling $53,195,295? Should this article be defeated, the operating budget will be $53,121,082, which is the same as last year with certain adjustments required by previous action of the Hudson School District or by law; or the governing body may hold one special meeting under RSA 40:13X and XVI to take up a revised operating budget only. Estimated tax rate: $13.10, Default tax rate: $13.08.”
In its school district wrap-up session, the budget committee cut approximately $400,000 from the proposed school operating budget. First at the microphone was Hudson School Board member Stacy Milbouer. She took the budget committee to task for cutting transportation funding for the homeless. She explained that this was a mandate from the state, and Hudson has a moral and legal duty to do this and that using the fund balance was the way to do it.
Budget Vice Chairman Martin stated it was a disservice to the taxpayers to have $400,000 in fund balance as a revenue line.
School District Business Administrator Karen Burnell pointed out that the fund balance is less than 1 percent and they could have spent it. School District Chairman Lee Lavoie pointed out that spending the fund balance was a way to save taxpayers money.
Martin stated the state’s mandate to fund homeless transportation was an unfunded mandate. Superintendent Russell stated that the school budget was based on 83 percent salary cost and 17 percent operating expense and that the operating portion was down $600,000.
The budget committee recommended Article 1, the CTE renovations, by a vote of 9-2. The budget committee recommended Article 2, the Alvirne renovations, by a vote of 7-4.
Watch this discussion continue.
The Hudson School District Deliberative Session is on Saturday, Feb. 3 at 9 a.m. at the Hudson Community Center and the public is encouraged to attend. School district and town elections are Tuesday, March 13.
The replay of the Budget Committee Public Hearing can be watched at this link: http://www.hudsonctv.com/Cablecast/Public/Show.aspx?ChannelID=2&ShowID=7318.