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January 23, 2008

Budget Committee doesn't back school warrant articles

SALEM - School district officials are pushing for a high school renovation, but most Budget Committee members don't want taxpayers to buy into the proposal.

The Budget Committee voted, 6-3, not to support the $1.5 million warrant article that will appear on the school district ballot in March. That money would be used for architectural and engineering fees, the first major step in an estimated $41 million renovation at Salem High School.

Budget Committee Chairman Michael Carney Jr. voted to support the project.

"I have a lot of experience with the high school and we're putting off something that's got to be done. It's only going to cost us more down the road," Carney said. "I don't agree with the people that said it's the Taj Mahal. They're trying to bring the school up to state standards."

Committee members who voted against the article last week were Vice Chairman Susan Cove, Stephen Campbell, Kathleen Cote, Ann Marie David, Roland Theberge and Selectman Everett McBride.

Carney said those who voted against the proposal don't have children enrolled at the high school. He said the committee members who voted against it think it's too much of a burden for taxpayers, that the town needs to build a new police station first and that the cost of the renovation was inflated.

That majority not only decided the school district's request for $1.5 million was too much, they also rejected a proposal that would save money for the renovation in the future.

In a 5-4 vote, with McBride being the sole voter to switch sides, the majority of the committee decided not to recommend an article that would set aside $600,000 in a trust fund for future votes.

Superintendent Michael Delahanty said the article would have no tax impact on voters. Last year, the School Board OK'd adding a 5 percent fee to Windham's tuition charges after it became clear Windham wouldn't have its own high school ready until 2009-2010. The 5 percent charge would generate that $600,000.

"I just believe it would be incredibly unfortunate if that $600,000 doesn't go for its intended purpose, which was to offset any improvements to Salem High School," Delahanty said. "To have that money gone in a year, in a flash, and serve no useful purpose to the district is unconscionable."

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