Winchester School

Winchester School’s courtyard.

WINCHESTER — Voters will be able to discuss and amend several spending proposals Saturday during the school district’s annual deliberative session, which was postponed from January due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s a look at the Winchester School District warrant:

Budget proposal: The district’s $12.4 million budget proposal is $1,083,376, or 9.6 percent, higher than the budget voters approved last year, when they chose to lop off about $1.6 million from what the school board had requested. In unanimous 5-0 votes, both the school board and budget committee recommend this year’s proposal of $12,353,376.

Voters at last year’s deliberative session opted to reduce the budget proposal to roughly the same figure as what voters approved in 2017, amid concerns that the district’s educational rankings hadn’t improved since then, as well as the impact on the town’s tax rate. The lower budget — $11,270,000 — then passed at the polls that March.

This prompted major cuts, including transportation for students to and from Keene High School, all athletic programs and more than 20 staff positions. Kindergarten was also reduced to half-day.

The default budget, which takes effect if voters reject this year’s proposal, is $11,610,865.

Hot topics: This year’s warrant includes an article asking voters to raise $400,000 to help eliminate a $745,402 deficit, which the district confirmed last fall, and which developed over the past eight years because the district did not conduct annual financial audits between 2012 and 2016, according to school board Chairwoman Lindseigh Picard.

Along with the $400,000 warrant article to offset part of the deficit, the school board voted following a public hearing on Jan. 5 to use $125,000 from the district’s special education expendable trust fund to help pay down the deficit, according to the minutes of that meeting. The district anticipates being able to make up the remaining $220,402 using excess funds at the end of next fiscal year.

If voters do not approve the $400,000 warrant article, the district will not be able to use any end-of-year surpluses to lower the tax rate until the deficit is eliminated, Picard has said.

Other warrant articles:

Asking voters to approve a two-year collective bargaining agreement with the Winchester Teachers’ Association. The contract would include wage and benefit increases estimated at $64,118 in 2021-22 and $63,903 for the following year.

Raising $125,000 for the district’s building improvements capital reserve fund.

Adding up to $25,000 to the district’s expendable trust fund for special education from the unreserved fund balance available at the end of the year.

Contested races: Four candidates are vying for two seats on the Winchester School Board, according to Winchester Town Clerk Jim Tetreault. Picard is running for re-election, and Aaron Bittner, Lindsey Hildreth and Autumn Laraba are also seeking three-year terms on the board.

Town meeting: The Winchester School District deliberative session will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday under a tent outside Winchester School. Since the district follows an “official ballot,” or SB2, format, residents will elect district officers and vote on the entire warrant on May 11, when polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Winchester School.

Olivia Belanger can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or obelanger@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @OBelangerKS.