February 15, 2017Voters at last week's school district deliberative session approved an amendment putting more than $115,000 into the school budget, bringing the budget back to the amount initially proposed by the school board.
Representatives from the school district and Budget Committee presented and discussed items on the school district warrant during the district's deliberative session on Friday night.
Article 2 was the school district budget of $25,903,694. The article was recommended by the Budget Committee, though the school board unanimously voted not to recommend it.
Superintendent Kirk Beitler said the district has been working with increasing costs, including a 14.4 percent guaranteed maximum rate increase in health insurance, as well as examining staffing with declining enrollments.
Beitler said he delivered a suggested budget to the school board that carried a 3.5 percent increase. The school board advised that the budget should be trimmed to around two percent. Following public comment and looking further into the budget, the school board asked in November for that increase to be closer to one percent.
The two percent increase was initially reached through staffing changes. A retiring librarian position was filled instead with a teacher and a librarian support staff position will also be cut at the middle school after another retirement.
To make the one percent increase the budget postponed a number of maintenance projects in all three schools. There will also be reductions in technology, textbooks, equipment, and professional development.
The budget initially proposed a two percent wage increase for non union support staff, though the school board reduced that to 1.75 percent.
The school district's initial proposed budget was $26,019,631, a 1.1 percent increase over the previous year.
The budget was presented to the Budget Committee in December. In January, Beitler said the district was surprised to hear the Budget Committee say wanted the budget to be the same as it was this school year, cutting $115,937 from the initially proposed budget.
He said they asked what line items they should cut and were given the response to find somewhere to cut that amount.
Beitler said this will result in cutting two support staff positions and doing away with the wage increase for non union staff members.
"The school board really feels they came in lean with their budget," Beitler said. "They have put together a responsible budget. That's why they have not recommended the Budget Committee's budget."
Joseph Wernig moved to amend the article returning the budget number to $26,019,631.
Wernig has children in the the school system, and said the district, in business terms, has been putting out a good product. Wernig said looking at the AP scores, the achievements of the performing arts department, and other factors are indicators of how well schools are doing.
"You need to get your friends out to vote and we need to get them out in numbers," Wernig said.
Several other residents spoke in favor of the amendment. A number of people said they came to Gilford because of the high quality of its schools.
"I don't feel it's okay to nickel and dime he school for a few thousand dollars," said Chris Harris.
Wernig and a number of other residents took exception to Budget Committee chair Norm Silber's comments during the budget public hearing that the district was paying Cadillac prices for a Yugo result.
Silber said after committee and subcommittee review, it was determined that the school board's proposed budget was "not in the best interest of the taxpayers of Gilford."
"No one on the Budget Committee has questioned the hard work by anyone employed by the school," Silber said.
Board member Chris McDonough, who is also the school board representative to the Budget Committee, spoke in favor of the amendment.
"I am so proud of the budget we put together this year for one percent," McDonough said.
McDonough said the Budget Committee's decision to cut the $115,937 was done at the 11th hour.
The amendment passed and the article will go on the warrant.
The Budget Committee held a meeting after the deliberative session and voted seven to three in favor of not recommending the budget. Committee member Kevin Leandro said the district can come up with the $115,937, saying the district already found $118,000 to fund non-contract costs with this year's default budget.
Another factor discussed was the projected end of the year surplus of $375,000 and how that could be used to cover that amount. Committee member Geoff Ruggles, however, said that projected number also accounts for unanticipated revenues and not just the unexpended portion of the budget.