February 03, 2016WHITEFIELD — A motion to amend the 2016-2017 WMRSD operating budget of $20,671,871 by $300,000 failed, with only 35 voters casting "yes" ballots and 113, "no," at Monday night's First Deliberative Session.
Ron Wert of Lancaster moved the amendment that would have reduced the operating budget's bottom line to $20,371,871.
An earlier half-hour informational presentation by school board members Mollie White and Peter Riviere had noted that the proposed budget is not only a little over two percent less than last year's but also includes monies to fund both the second year of the two-year teachers' contract and all health insurance increases.
Arlene Allin of Lancaster spoke to the motion to amend that was made by Ron Wert, also of Lancaster.
Allin called for both consolidation and elimination, and lambasted the school board for having a cavalier attitude when it's spending taxpayer dollars rather than treating public funds as carefully as they would their own. She spoke of "spiraling costs and declining enrollments" plus a "crippling tax increase" that hurt Lancaster taxpayers.
Allin noted that annual zero-based budgeting would have wrung out wasteful dollars, and she complained that the board indulged in "impulse buying" with surplus dollars.
Non-union Central Office personnel, she said, had received a total of a nine percent increase over the last three years, with another two percent embedded in the proposed budget.
Support staff had received a 9.4 percent increase in the same time period and was slated under Article 2 to get another four percent.
Later, chairman Greg Odell noted, however, that during this year's union negotiations the support staff had agreed to changes in its health insurance benefit so the District will avoid paying the "Cadillac" penalty when it kicks in.
Schools are for the education of students, she said, pointing out that almost 40 percent of students scored "less than proficient" on the new Smarter Balanced tests.
Allin scoffed at the improvements made for the JROTC's working space, the purchase of an $800 musical instrument, and custodial work done on the rented Central office space. She objected not only to the size of the fuel oil budget but also to adding a part-time athletic trainer to the Athletic budget.
Lancaster's concerned taxpayers are just trying to 'plug the money drain holes," she explained.
Few questions were asked on the remaining nine articles, and no other amendments were made.
All articles, including petitioned Article 10 that the District's attorney says is only advisory, will appear on the March 8 ballot as written on the warrant.
Lancaster Fire Chief Randy Flynn said that the Article 10 petitioners were just "trying to send a message" to the school board. In his job, Flynn said, he hates seeing the elderly unable to afford to buy needed medications because they are paying their property taxes instead.
He concluded, "The school tax is taking the lion's share of weekly checks."