December 05, 2018BRISTOL — The state's revised estimate of adequacy aid for the Newfound Area School District had officials in School Administrative Unit 4 recommending further reductions in their original budget proposal for 2019-20. The estimated Equitable Education Aid for the next fiscal year is $3,070,303.67, a decrease of $129,396.56 from the current year and $44,721 less than the original estimate that the district used in calculating what it could spend under Newfound's tax cap.
Superintendent Stacy Buckley said the new budget maximum is $22,098,646, a mere $33,807 (a tenth of a percent) more than current-year spending.
She told the Newfound Area School Board on Nov. 26 that the district could meet that limit by not purchasing laptops for middle school art and for teachers in Bridgewater and New Hampton.
Business Administrator Michael Limanni said all that remained in the budget proposal of the expenditures identified in the capital improvement plan for 2019-20 were the repair of Newfound Road and repaving of the high school parking lot.
Board member Christine Davol of New Hampton questioned those priorities.
"I'm getting tired of educational things getting cut," she said.
Davol said she recognized the importance of maintenance projects, but when cuts must be made, she favored cutting there, rather than instructional areas.
"Those are things that somebody like Archie might address," she said in a reference to Archie Auger's motion from the floor to increase the budget two years ago to cover the cost of repairing the high school roof.
While the school board cannot propose spending that exceeds the tax cap, voters have that option, providing that the additional spending does not exceed the proposed budget by more than 10 percent.
Board member Vincent Paul Migliore of Bridgewater supported Davol's position.
"We've been focusing on these facilities, and Christine's point is that our job is to see that student outcomes are focused on," he said.
Migliore had previously suggested putting capital improvement items in separate warrant articles so the voters could decide whether to fund them. Former school board member Don Franklin of Hebron, now serving on the budget committee, objected, saying that giving voters a chance to decide could result in building maintenance getting delayed. He favored including capital projects in the operating budget where it would be more difficult for voters to locate and remove the funding.
Buckley noted that the technology purchases she was removing from the budget could be made in the spring if the district is able to realize savings during the year. Calculations by Migliore showed that the district has averaged $800,000 in unexpended funds each year and, last year, had $1.5 million left over at the end of the year.
Limanni said the administration has been straddling the line between curriculum and building improvements, trying to do a little of both. Building maintenance has been neglected for so long that he wants to catch up, but he acknowledged that the tax cap is making it increasingly difficult to do so. He pointed out that it is a lot easier to buy laptops at the end of the year than to try to do road paving with the unexpended fund balance, which takes a lot more than a telephone call.
"Eventually, with this cap, you won't be able to do building improvements or curriculum upgrades," he said. "We're trying to present a way to stabilize taxes over time."
The board made no decision, deciding to take up the budget at its next meeting, after members have had a chance to decide what approach to take.
The board's decision on the budget only serves as guidance for the Newfound Area Budget Committee, whose role is to build the spending plan that goes before the voters. Typically, the budget committee takes the school board budget and makes adjustments, but this year it has decided to build its own budget on a parallel track.
That is closer to the approach taken by a majority of budget committees, according to Barrett Christina, executive director of the New Hampshire School Boards Association, who gave a briefing on the budget process at the start of the Nov. 26 meeting. Budget committee members attended the school board meeting to hear what Christina had to say.
Christina ran through the state laws governing the budget process, emphasizing that the budget committee is the body responsible for building a budget and presenting it to the voters. Members have the right to ask for any pertinent information from school officials, and the latter are required to furnish that information.
Christina recommended that the two bodies meet early to learn what each's expectations are, and to have one person act as a liaison to make information requests, to avoid overwhelming administrators with requests, and to give them time to gather the information.
He also explained that the 10 percent limitation on exceeding the budget committee's recommendation does not include collective bargaining cost items. In other words, if the budget committee does not recommend the recently ratified teachers' contract, voters can still approve it, even if doing so would increase the budget by more than 10 percent.
While the budget committee's proposal goes before the voters, if they reject it, the default budget that is developed by the school board goes into effect.
Later in the meeting, the school board noted that, if the budget committee has been unable to complete its budget proposal, the school board's budget would be the one going before the voters. Buckley, however, said she does not expect that to happen.
The school board accepted the resignation of Sharon Klapyk of Danbury and agreed to advertise for a successor.
Klapyk, who is serving the first year of her second term on the school board, resigned "due to an unexpected personal situation."
The school board plans to appoint a successor in January to serve until the March elections, when the elected candidate will fill out Klapyk's two remaining years on the board.