LITTLETON — A level-service budget and a level-funded, or flat-lined, budget isn’t the same thing.
That’s what the Littleton School District is becoming aware of all the more as its budgeting for the 2021-2022 school year advances and unknowns continue to weigh heavily because of the coronavirus and a pandemic that is only growing in severity in New Hampshire.
Those concerns come as crunch time nears and the Littleton School Board meets with the town-school advisory budget committee on Dec. 3 to present its draft budget and present its final proposed budget to the committee on Dec. 21.
The budget hearing for the community is scheduled for Jan. 14 and the deliberative session for Feb. 3.
During the school board’s meeting on Nov. 16, Board Member Larry Blaisdell summed up to Littleton School District Superintendent William Hart what other board members were thinking.
“The guidance I would give you is I would like to see a level-service budget, from the standpoint of I’m not sure that we can ask for a whole bunch of additional and new things at this point because we have way too many unknowns still,” said Blaisdell. “Despite what people might want to believe, we don’t know where we’re going in the next several months … I would like to hold the line. I wouldn’t want to give up a single person at this point because I know the staff in all the schools are doing the best they can to fill the positions.”
The district is looking at a budget in the neighborhood of $17 million, and a level service-budget that maintains current staff, programs, and services will still come with an increase of about $500,000 because of expenses and contracts already built into the budget.
Blaisdell said he realizes the district is looking at expenses and increases that are beyond its control but encourages the tightest budget possible.
“I wish you and the staff luck,” he said.
Hart presented the board with three budget options for direction — level-funded, level-service, and needs-based.
“Level-funded is exactly what it says, a bottom-line number,” Hart said, contrasting the difference. “What people don’t understand is that necessitates nine out of 10 times cuts. You don’t get level service … Level service always demands an increase, even if it’s minimal. What we’re looking at here is just over 2 percent.”
Greg Cook, chair of the Littleton School Board, asked Tom Mangels, SAU 84’s business manager, to see what he can find to trim out of the projected increase.
Like all school districts, SAU 84 has received grants for COVID-19, but those are for expenses above and beyond what is in the operating budget, said Mangels.
The proposed 2021-2022 budget is currently $357,925 higher than the 2020-2021 budget approved by voters, but other expenses are likely to drive it north to near the half-million mark.
“A good starting point is level-service,” said Cook. “Probably the answer to this will be somewhere between level-funded and level-service.”
He asked Hart to take a close look with his administrative team at spending over the last year and see if there are places to be more efficient and if there are cuts they can absorb.
“Having your administrative team sharpen their pencils and see what they can do without or can delay for a year or two, and see where we are might be the smartest thing to do,” said Cook.
School Board member Ann Wiggett agrees with level-service and, noting the staff shortages, said the district should not provide any new position other than getting staffing back to normal.
“I would agree with Ann on that,” said school board member Millie Nelson. “We need to be careful.”
The 2021-2022 school year begins July 1.