Upset taxpayers convince board to delay budget

HUDSON — A crowd of close to 100 angry taxpayers confronted the school board at the board’s Monday, May 23 regular meeting. They were upset that after nearly three-quarters of the voters who turned out rejected the proposed budget on May 17, the board immediately adopted the same budget anyway.

But the board’s action on the budget was short-lived. Bowing to public pressure, the board decided to rescind its own vote and look for additional cuts before adopting a final budget for the new school year.

Under state law a school board may adopt a budget that requires lower levels of spending than would be required by the state under a so-called contingency budget. A contingency budget restricts spending to the current annual increase in the cost of living, now set at 1.6%. The budget the board adopted called for a spending increase of less than 1%.

But it was not spending, it was taxes that caused people to confront the board Monday. Because of cuts in state and federal aid, the board’s budget contained a 9.8% increase in the tax levy.

At the meeting, district Superintendent Jack Howe offered reasons why the Hudson district is in worse shape than other school districts in the county. He said that the district’s capital reserve funds are low, and while other districts were able use their reserve funds to offset increases in the tax levy, Hudson had only $800,000 in reserves to defray cost increases.

Taxpayers had their say during the public forum part of the meeting, and while most remained civil, some abused the privilege.

Finally the board voted to go back to the drawing board, with Elizabeth Faut, Peter Meyer, Peter Merante, and new board member Peri Chapman voting for the move and Mr. Otty and Mary Daly voting against. School officials will look at what additional cuts are possible in addition to the layoffs and other measures in the defeated budget, but they made no guarantees that they will change the plan.

In approving the proposed budget board members called it the best choice for students. “If we make more cuts, no one will be happy,” said Mr. Otty.

Some parents expressed concern about what more cuts would do to their children’s educational experience.

After the vote, the crowd noisily left the room along with two TV crews as the meeting continued, with a presentation by M.C. Smith Principal Mark Brenneman on the School Report Card.

The board scheduled a meeting for May 25 to revisit the budget.

The board has the option of scheduling a second vote on a new proposal or the same one. It may also decide to adopt a contingency budget or to repeat its earlier action and adopt the proposal rejected by voters. A final budget must be in place before the conclusion of the current school year in June.

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