Preston finance board slices $342,090 from school budget plan

Preston - The Board of Finance on Monday cut $342,090 from the $11.2 million proposed school budget that was defeated at last week's referendum, bringing the new plan to $10.85 million, which is 2 percent more than the current budget.

The projected tax rate would go down next year, from the current 23.7 mills to 23.18 mills.

The finance board considered three different levels of cuts Monday, approving the highest cut on the table, proposed by member Andy Bilodeau, in a 4-2 vote.

Chairman Jerry Grabarek proposed a $200,000 cut in the proposed budget, estimating that would still allow the Board of Education to propose a part-time new universal preschool program. About $185,000 of the proposed 5.4 percent school budget increase would have funded creation of a universal full-day preschool. Grabarek had argued throughout the budget process that school officials should have started with a part-time program.

Finance Board member David Cannon, however, proposed a smaller cut of $142,000 in the proposed school budget, figuring that would be enough of a cut to eliminate the need for any tax increase in the coming year.

Bilodeau, Kenneth Zachem, Merrill Gerber and Norman Gauthier approved the $342,090 cut, while Grabarek and Cannon voted against it.

After deciding on the total, the finance board voted to recommend that the Board of Selectmen set May 29 as the town meeting date to discuss the new school budget and send it to referendum on June 10. The school budget question would be accompanied by an advisory question on whether voters think the new budget total is too high or too low, Grabarek said.

Board of Education Chairwoman Jan Clancy said after the meeting that she was disappointed with the Board of Finance's actions. She said she feels voters would have approved the school budget with the smaller cuts proposed by Cannon or Grabarek.

"We're going to have to go back and look over the whole budget if this passes," Clancy said. "We're going to have to see how we're going to manage the whole budget."

Clancy said it's too early to speculate on what items could be cut if the budget passes at the next referendum, but she does not expect voters to turn it down.

c.bessette@theday.com

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