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Board holds hearing on school district budget

Quirky school district default budget is more than what SB propose

January 21, 2010
WAKEFIELD — Residents won't save any money by voting down the Wakefield School District's proposed operating budget this year because it's actually less than the default budget.

The operating budget is about $8.36 million. If that fails at the polls in March, the $8.58 million default budget would go into effect.

"If voters feel the school needs more money they can vote for the default," said Budget Committee member Relf Fogg at last week's public hearing on the budget.

A default budget consists of last year's budgets with adjustments required by law—they are normally less than proposed operating budgets. However, budget committee member Denny Miller said for the past two year's the operating budget has been less than the default.

If voters pass the operating budget and new contracts with the teachers' and paraprofessionals' unions, the district will still be spending almost $23,000 less than it did last year, said Budget Committee Chair Howie Knight.

"The school board and administration should be highly commended for their efforts to reduce the budget," said Knight.

Resident Jerry O'Connor, speaking from the audience, agreed with Knight. O'Connor said their work has been "amazing."

Officials said the school district's operating budget is much lower than last year's because reduction in force due to decreasing enrollment. The enrollment has dropped to about 470 students from an average of about 530 over the past nine years. School Administrative Unit 64 administration recommended cutting the following positions from next year's budget: a teacher, a guidance counselor, and some paraprofessionals. A Title 2 teacher's position would be eliminated because the grant funding ran out.

In addition, the SAU administration has recommended that Wakefield and Milton School Districts share a transportation director and a facilities director. Currently, both districts have their own transportation and facilities directors.

Knight said he'd like the Legislature to revisit municipal budget law to prevent situations where the default is more than the proposed budget. This year, the town government's proposed operating budget is also less than the default budget.

Voters will be able to discuss and amend the budget and warrant articles during the deliberative session on Feb. 3, at 7 p.m. at Paul School.

Here's a summary of proposed articles:

Article 3

Asks voters to approve about $455,000 for Wakefield's share of the bill for SAU 64, which consists of Wakefield and Milton School Districts. In total, SAU 64's proposed operating budget is $814,797. The article needs a majority of voters in the district as a whole to pass. The proposed budget is slightly higher than the default budget.

Article 4

Asks voters to approve a three year collective bargaining agreement with the Wakefield Education Association (teacher's union.) The increased costs are as follows: Year 2010-11, $62,826; Year 2011-12, $89,184; 2012-13, $84,735. The contract would reduce the amount of sick days teachers have. Currently, teachers have 15 per year. The new contract would allow them 13 sick days per year, five of which can be used for family. The contract also reduces the amount a teacher's of health insurance costs that the district is responsible for from 88 percent to 86 percent in the first year of the contract and 85 percent in the last two years. Teachers will be eligible for step raises but not cost of living raises, said officials.

For the last two years of the contract, the district would budget $9,000 per year for a merit pay program.

Article 5

Asks voters permission for the school board to hold a special meeting to address cost issues in the event article 4 fails. If article 4 and article 5 fail, that the school district would have to petition the superior court for the right to have such a meeting. Because a similar warrant article wasn't on the warrant last year, the school district had to petition the superior court for the opportunity to hold a special meeting (town vote) on a fact finder's recommendation for a proposed contract with the paraprofessionals union. Voters rejected the fact finder's report in December—prompting the need for Article 6.

"I don't want to do that again," said Knight of December's special election.

Such an article hadn't been on the warrant last March because there wasn't a contract to vote on at the time.

Article 6

Asks voters to approve a two year collective bargaining agreement with the Wakefield Paraprofessionals Association. The increased costs are as follows: Year 2010-11, $18,082 and Year 2011-12 $13,325. In December, the paraprofessionals union forced a special town meeting seeking access to health insurance and better wages. This proposed contract would allow them to buy into the school district's health plan at 100 percent cost to them. It would also provide paraprofessionals step raises but not cost of living raises.

Article 7

Asks voters permission for the school board to hold a special meeting to address cost issues in the event article 6 fails. If article 6 and article 7 fail, that the school district would have to petition the superior court for the right to have such a meeting.

Article 8

Asks voters for $70,100 to repair a rubber membrane roof at the Paul School. The money would come from the unreserved fund balance (surplus funds). The warrant article is non-lapsing until 2012, meaning the money can be carried over until then.

The membrane needs to be repaired in an area behind the library that budget committee member Dave Mankus described as an enclosed patio with a skylight.

The area is used as a hallway but it also has a little room for doing interventions (supplemental work or additional help), said School Board chair Janet Gagnon.

The school district has to be careful in the winter not to allow an ice dam to build up over that portion of the roof or less it will leak, said Gagnon who added it has already been patched hundreds of times.

Article 9

Asks voters for $25,000 to be placed in the Wakefield School Transportation Expendable Trust for the purpose of obtaining vehicles and funding for major repairs. The district is going to purchase a van.

Article 10

Asks voters put $25,000 into a new expendable trust fund for the purpose of educating educationally disabled children. The money would come from the unreserved fund balance. Budget Committee members say they will put the warrant article on every year until the trust fund reaches about $100,000. The idea is to have a cushion for taxpayers if a disabled child comes into the district, which could cost much more per year.

In recent years the school district had an account for this purpose, but officials decided to close it, said Knight. But now, Knight said he changed his mind and said the district should set aside money.

If there isn't enough money in the unreserved fund balance to fund both the roof and the expendable trust, the priority is funding the roof repair, said Knight. The articles regarding fund balance expenditures were placed warrant in order of importance, he said.

Article 11

Asks voters if they would like the school board to support the efforts of the New Hampshire School Board's Association to repeal a state law known as the "evergreen clause." It allows unions to keep their current contracts after they expire. Officials said because of the evergreen clause, unions don't have to negotiate in good faith again if they are satisfied with their contracts.

Klumb Environmenta;
Varney Smith
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