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Joyce Endee

Only one change made to Wakefield school warrant

WAKEFIELD SCHOOL BOARD IN SESSION (l-r): sitting next to SAU 64 Business Administrator Andrew D'Agostino Board Members Norma Joy, Robert Ouellete, Relf Fogg, Bonnie Cyr, Chair Steve Brown and Budget Committee Member Dave Mankus voted against Wakefield resident Judy Nason's proposed amendment to add language to Article 7. In the background are School District Moderator Richard Sager and District Clerk Beth Seldin. (Heather Terragni photo) (click for larger version)
February 13, 2014
WAKEFIELD — Several amendments were proposed at the Wakefield School District Deliberative Session held last Friday evening, Feb. 7, but only one passed.

With 31 registered voters in the audience, former school board members Judy Nason and Janet Gagnon along with residents David Lee and Sandy Johnson did most of the talking.

That is to say with the exception of School District Moderator Richard Sager, who led the meeting in typical Sager style, including a good dose of levity and Wakefield-themed factoids.

The Wakefield School District ballot has eight warrant articles for voters to consider on March 11, the first of which includes the election of several school district officers by official ballot. Voters will decide on a district moderator, clerk, and treasurer, as well as two school board members (for one and three years).

Article 2. To approve the amendment to the current Collective Bargaining Agreement reached between the Wakefield School Board and the Wakefield Education Association Para Professionals, which calls for an estimated $173,042 increase in benefits for the year 2014-15. This sum which represents additional costs attributable to the increases in health benefits. Recommended by the school board 4-0 with one abstention and by the Wakefield Budget Committee 5-3)

An amendment was made to this article by Sandy Johnson, who recommended that the language "Wakefield Education Association Para-Professionals" be changed to "Wakefield Para-professionals Union NEA-NH" which she said is the group's official name. Having explained that by replacing "education association" with "union" only clarified the group's contractual name the amendment passed easily.

In regard to the $173,042 to be raised, Budget Committee Member Priscilla Colbath pointed out that the amount reflects the cost for all 22 para-professionals to take the insurance when in reality she said it's very doubtful that they all will sign up for it. Having voted against this article Colbath and another Budget Committee Member Nancy Spencer Smith said they thought it was excessive and should have been reduced to reflect a more accurate figure.

Approximately nine to 11 paraprofessionals are expected to take the insurance per a survey taken by the union itself. This means that there is a strong possibility that half of the money raised for the amendment to the collective bargaining agreement won't be spent and will go into the general fund, where, if it is not reappropriated for another line item, will go back to the taxpayers at the end of the school year.

David Lee asked for clarification that the unused monies would go back into the bottom line budget where it could be used for any line item in the budget and not necessarily go back to the people. The answer was yes.

It's because of this uncertainty that Judy Nason suggested adding "up to" in the language to allow for some leeway, but was told by District Attorney Sayward that a cost item could not be amended.

Likewise Colbath was given a similar answer when she proposed reducing the article by $60,000.

Johnson pointed out that over the years the district has faithfully given back to the town and that this increase was a "drop in the bucket" compared to the approximately $659,000 it gave back last year.

In the debate over whether or not the proposed increase should reflect all eligible paraprofessionals or only those who've expressed an interest in buying into the insurance plan Paul Johnson added that an accurate estimate would be difficult due to staff attrition and changing circumstances that may cause union members to change their minds.

Budget Committee member David Mankus was hopeful that by passing the article this year the district could gain a better understanding of the actual figures and therefore project an amount more true to the cost in the future.

Only the amendment regarding the union's name was approved.

Article 3. To raise and appropriate an operating budget not including appropriations by special warrant articles totaling $8,718,564. If defeated the default budget would be $8,716,661. Recommended by the school board 3-1 and the Budget Committee 7-1.

Special Education and technology were the chief areas of concern. Janet Gagnon questioned why the figure for special education tuition-non public included padding for a ghost placement, when a few years back she said the district had established an expendable trust fund specifically for special education costs so that the operating budget wouldn't need to be padded. Why were monies included in the budget for this as well as in a separate warrant article she wanted to know.

To this Superintendent Michael Tursi replied that the intent was to meet the goal of $100,000 in the trust fund for students with disabilities. As of the end of 2013 the fund balance was $80,792.

School Board member Bonnie Cyr reminded those in attendance that just one placement can take up the entire trust fund. She said that based current and incoming students adding the ghost placement was in the best interest of the town.

"We are not trying to double dip in any way, shape or form," she said.

In fact Tursi added the ghost position in the proposed operating budget has already been filled.

Even with the ghost placement costs incorporated the bottom line figure for special education in the proposed budget is $215,964.07 less than last year.

In regard to the technology line item Judy Nason wanted to know why the district was purchasing new equipment when only two years ago the district entered a three-year lease agreement for the use of 200 computers and iPads. The plan, she said, was to use the leased technology for the whole three years before purchasing any large amounts of new equipment.

The need to purchase equipment, said Paul School Principal Jerry Gregoire, is based on an increase in the use of the technology in the building. Asked if the intent to purchase computer equipment had anything to do with the Common Core Standards, which require computer based testing, he responded that it definitely did not.

Gagnon asked why the capital reserve fund for technology, which at the end of 2013 had a balance of $2,429, wasn't being used Tursi stated that it was included in the budget rather than a warrant article for fear of it getting voted down.

Colbath and fellow Budget Committee Member Jerry O'Connor were of the opinion that the additional technology funds should have been proposed as a warrant article.

Concerned with the integrity of the board, O'Connor was not in favor of purchasing more computers at this time.

"We told the voters two years ago that if they allowed us to enter this three-year lease we wouldn't be asking for more computers," he said, promises shouldn't change with each board.

Nason proposed reducing the operating budget by $50,000 to allow for some technology to be purchased, but to a lesser extent. This amendment failed 14 to 17.

The overall increase to the technology line is $64,772.81.

No amendments were passed for article 3.

Article 4. To adopt a School Administrative Unit budget of $925,653 of which $523,642 would be assigned to the school budget of Wakefield school district. Recommended by the school board 4-1, but the Budget Committee does not recommend 3-5.

When asked why the Budget Committee did not favor this article the response did not seem to be of a substantive nature, but mainly because of some confusion with receiving and reviewing the document in a timely manner. Colbath stated that due to short notice she hadn't had time to review the proposed SAU budget and therefore couldn't vote in favor of it without first doing so.

Lee said it would be hard for him to vote in favor of an article if the Budget Committee did not.

Article 5. To raise and appropriate $50,000 to be placed in the expendable trust fund previously established for the purpose of updating and improving security at the Paul School. Recommended by the school board 3-1 and the Budget Committee 6-2.

Since having met with various police and fire officials last year to discuss ways in which the Paul School building's security could be enhanced, the school board said it has a tentative plan in place that will occur in phases over several years.

This year money raised by the warrant would go towards replacing the building's windows. A discussion ensued over the need for new windows in the school and whether the replacement of them should be under a renovation article or a security article.

Nason said in her opinion this seemed like a building and renovation issue and that what she gathered from watching previous school board meetings was that it was being presented under security so it had a better chance of passing.

This "should not be hid under security to guilt us all into voting for it because it's security, because I really don't feel it is."

Brown responded that the windows were a security issue, though their replacement would also drive a renovation component.

Lee questioned if there wasn't more pertinent things to focus security measures on.

As a safety measure the board did not want to share too much information about the school's security issues and plans to rectify them. Funding security measures requires a bit of faith in the board to do the right thing, said Mankus.

The board has a plan in place for other future security measures that consists of multiple phases.

No amendments were proposed for article 5.

Article 6. To vote to establish an expendable trust fund for the purpose of adding a parking lot on the recently purchased land on Gary Road. The article would add $75,000 to the new fund from the June 30, 2014 unreserved fund balance (surplus). Recommended by the school board 5-0 and the Budget Committee 7-1.

When asked for a timeframe for completion and estimated cost of the project, Brown answered that it most likely would take two or three years to complete the new parking lot and other landscaping enhancements around the complex. As for an estimated cost he said the initial bids received were around $500,000, but that the board was hoping to break the project down and get local contractors involved. He said that for now the board would be happy to get the parking lot operational, though not paved, as the estimated cost for paving the lot was $115,000.

Nason wondered if there might be funds left over from last year's warrant article which was approved to purchase the property on Gary Road and if so could they be reappropriated to cover the cost of some of the first phase of the project.

Nason motioned to reduce this warrant article by $60,000 to $15,000, however the amendment failed.

No amendments were approved for article 6.

Article 7. To raise and appropriate $25,000 to be placed in the expendable trust fund previously established for the education of educationally disabled children. Recommended by the school board 3-1 and by the Budget Committee 8-0)

Here again Nason proposed an amendment to add language to the end of the article that would say "with such amount to be funded by the June 30, 2014 unreserved fund balance surplus available July 1, 2014."

The reasoning behind this amendment Nason explained would be to ensure that the fund balance going forward to fund article 7 would be covered. If the money for that ghost position, referred to in article 3, wasn't spent it could go towards funding article 7 the following year.

The amendment was defeated in a close vote and no further amendments were made for article 7.

Article 8. To vote to raise and appropriate the sum of $37,000 to be placed in the capital reserve fund previously established for roof repair and replacement. Recommended by the school board 4-0 and the Budget Committee 8-0.

There were no concerns brought up by the public in regard to warrant article 8.

Voters will have the final say on all eight warrant articles at the polls on Tuesday, March 11 at the Town Hall Opera House between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m.

This meeting can be viewed in its entirety at governmentoversite.com.

Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
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