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March 12, 2003

School Board approves budget

From: Portsmouth Herald, NH - 12 Mar 2003

By Sara Newbury

PORTSMOUTH - Tuesday night's Portsmouth School Board meeting put to rest the budget deliberations that have been going on for months.

The board voted unanimously to approve a $26,251,496 total budget for 2003-04.

"This is an agonizing time given the budgetary challenges before us," said Superintendent Lyonel Tracy at the meeting. "I want to thank this board for its open and honest discussion along the way, especially for (its) commitment to approve a budget that provides a quality education for students at a respectful cost to our tax payers."

At a special meeting on March 4, board members voted to eliminate 12 positions from the school system to help attain their goal of a zero-percent increase from the current-year budget - a goal that was set by city officials.

The program for the deaf and hard of hearing in Portsmouth schools was also abolished, and several existing positions will be reconfigured to include more responsibilities.

The savings from the cuts and changes approved last week had been estimated at $829,205 - an amount that has since been lowered.

"It has become clear to me that those numbers are not absolute," said business administrator Peter Torrey as he presented the final budget proposal.

"My calculations now say that the budget reduction that was originally programmed at $829,205 is really reduced now to $696,298 - a difference of $132,907," he said.

According to Torrey, a reduction of $666,039 was necessary to maintain the current budget level, which leaves some room for slight changes.

Tuesday night's meeting concluded with board members once again expressing their regrets about having to make the budget cuts.

"I dread next year," said board member Nancy Novelline Clayburgh. "We all think this year was bad, and next year is going to be just as bad, if not worse. Unless we can do something about the statewide property tax, we're going to be sitting here next year doing the exact same thing, and I find that very depressing."

At last week's meeting Tracy said Portsmouth is losing $3.7 million to the state for the tax, and next year's loss will be bigger.

"Next year we are targeted for $5.9 million. That's the budget we're talking about," he said.

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