EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 2, 2013

N.H. towns could lose thousands in state aid

NH towns could lose thousands in state aid unless bill passes

By Doug Ireland

---- — Three Southern New Hampshire school districts could lose thousands of dollars in state aid due to a miscalculation by the state Department of Education.

But a bill before lawmakers seeks to restore the money to the Londonderry, Hampstead and Sanborn Regional school districts, in addition to approximately 70 others across the state.

Londonderry could lose $307,286 in state aid for this year. Hampstead’s aid would drop by $77,372 and Sanborn’s by $56,230, according to Judith Fillion of the state Department of Education.

Aid to other local districts would not decrease. No additional funding will have to be raised through taxes because the state already has the money to pay the affected districts, she said.

”The money is the budget, so we don’t have to add money,” Fillion said.

The error involved a misinterpretation of how much aid some districts would receive under the state’s education funding formula, Fillion said.

District officials were told they would receive the same aid in 2013 as they did in 2011 and 2012, even though that wasn’t necessarily the case, she said. The Department of Education detected the error in December and immediately notified superintendents, Fillion said.

For Londonderry School Superintendent Nathan Greenberg, the news was devastating.

”It’s really critical for us, considering the size of the error,” Greenberg said yesterday. “It’s critically important that we get this money put back. We would have to curtail some services.”

Greenberg said his district already has made small reductions in spending in case the bill does not pass.

”We’re, basically, already slowing things down,” he said. “We’re also hoping for a mild winter.”

A mild winter means the district would have to spend less money on snow removal and heating costs.

The $307,286 Londonderry could lose is the third largest amount in the state behind Nashua at $342,606 and Lebanon at $316,175.

Greenberg is hopeful Londonderry will receive the $307,286 in reduced aid through legislation that unanimously passed the state Senate on Thursday.

Senate Bill 40 would ensure the districts receive the additional $3.4 million initially promised by the Department of Education.

The bill’s several co-sponsors include Londonderry lawmakers Sen. Sharon Carson, a Republican, and Rep. Lisa Whittemore, a Democrat.

Another co-sponsor is Sen. James Rausch, R-Derry, who sponsored the current education funding law.

Rausch said yesterday the communities affected were those where property revaluations had recently been conducted.

Changes in values were not taken into account when calculating aid amounts.

He said SB 40 would adequately address the funding dilemma, calling it a “one-time event.”

”It was important that we got this done,” he said.

The bill now goes to the House, where Rep. Sherm Packard, R-Londonderry, said there should be a lot of support for the legislation since communities such as Londonderry would be hit hard.

”I assume it would pass by a large majority,” he said. “If we don’t get it back, we will have to make it up. That’s a big chunk of money.”

Sanborn and Hampstead school officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.