Published Online: November 12, 1997

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Don't Spend That Surplus

A budget surplus is supposed to be good news. But in New Hampshire, where school districts have been told not to spend additional lottery revenue that is already in their hands, the extra money is creating confusion.

The dilemma was prompted by "conflicting state statutes that govern the department of education and the department of revenue administration," said Commissioner of Education Elizabeth M. Twomey. Admittedly, "it's a good problem to have," she added.

The additional money--$5.8 million--was sent to the districts separately from the $65 million in basic education funding approved in this fiscal year's state budget.

State education officials believe the money should be spent by districts for basic student aid. But revenue department officials argue that the funds should be used by municipalities to reduce property taxes, which serve as the main revenue source for school budgets in New Hampshire.

The two state agencies have asked Attorney General Philip T. McLaughlin to clear up the matter. They expect to have an answer by the end of the year.

Paul Krohne, the executive director of the New Hampshire School Boards Association, added that some districts that are in greater need of aid may hold special town meetings to ask for approval to spend the money, as is required by law. But most, he said, would use it to roll back property taxes anyway.

Constitutional Query

Tired of missed budget deadlines, New York State School Boards Association officials were disappointed last week when state voters rejected a referendum that might have opened the door to speedier funding negotiations by state legislators.

For 13 years, the state has not produced a budget by April 1, the beginning of New York's fiscal year. While school board budgets must be adopted in the spring, sometimes the state budget, which tells how much state aid the schools will receive, doesn't come out until late summer.

Mindful of that conflict, the school boards' group backed a referendum that would have authorized a convention to propose changes in the state constitution. The hope was that a future amendment would force state legislators to turn out a budget in a timely manner.

The convention "would have been an approach that could have gotten at some of the problems," said Caroline "Tarry" Shipley, the association's president.

--LINDA JACOBSON & MARY ANN ZEHR

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