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N.H. House Republicans move to allow budget caps for school districts

A photo of a school hallway, lined with photos, with an open door. A  sign on the door reads "Zoom meeting, do not disturb."
Michael Loccisano
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Getty Images North America/New Hampshire Bulletin
The House Municipal and County Services Committee voted Tuesday to recommend passage of the bill, 10-9.

New Hampshire towns could vote to impose budget caps on their school districts under a bill heading to the House floor this month.

House Bill 1393 would allow towns to vote to introduce a budget cap that would apply a base rate per attending student and allow that rate to rise with inflation. That rate would then bind the school district; annual budgets would not be able to exceed the total figure.

Proposed by Rep. Diane Pauer, a Brookline Republican, the bill would require a 60 percent supermajority of voters to approve the warrant article creating the budget cap. Once created, the budget cap could be overridden in any given year, but only if a 60 percent supermajority of voters moved to do so.

The House Municipal and County Government Committee voted Tuesday to recommend passage of the bill, 10-9.

Republicans have touted the bill as a means to combat high property taxes in the state and force schools to reduce budgets as they lose enrollment. Democrats have warned the caps could remove flexibility for schools and force teachers to be fired or programs cut if expenses went over budget.

“In my mind, this bill provides tools for taxpayers to control what I see as unsustainable budgets that increase year after year, despite the student enrollment going down,” Pauer said. “We constantly and continually hear about the affordability to be able to live in New Hampshire. And I would submit to you that part of this has to do with our taxation and our spending.”

But Rep. Jim Maggiore, a North Hampton Democrat, raised the possibility of a school district receiving a special education student whose services might require an increase to the expected budget. Though the district would receive catastrophic aid from the Department of Education the following year, the short-term damage could demand staff cuts if a budget cap were in effect, Maggiore said.

“If a district receives a special needs student who moves in, that would cost my community, we’d be looking at, we estimate, about $300,000. … And in my community $300,000 is three heads, three people, because you can’t find $300,000 in pencils and toilet paper. So $300,000 means we need to fire three teachers in order to be able to afford that special needs student, which we’d have an obligation to. I am opposed to this bill.”

New Hampshire Bulletin is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Hampshire Bulletin maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Dana Wormald for questions: info@newhampshirebulletin.com. Follow New Hampshire Bulletin on Facebook and Twitter.

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