Budget Committee decides nothing

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Budget Committee decides nothing

Postby MattPublicover » Fri Feb 04, 2011 6:38 am

The School Budget Committee decided NOTHING was the correct adjustment to make to the School Board's budget proposal. More than 20 amendments were proposed last night, some up, some down, but in the end, not a single amendment passed.

Zero. Zip. Nada.

After working off and on since the summertime, after meeting individually with each department head, after having every department head present his or her budget for a second time in a public forum, after deliberating for four hours last night, the end result is that the budget being presented to the public hearing next week is EXACTLY the same as it would have been if there were no Budget Committee at all.

I want to commend the School Board for coming up with a budget that was as tight as it could be without sacrificing the quality of education in Merrimack. I respect the board and its action, and I think they have been doing a consistently fine job for the past several years. I have some philosophical disagreements with certain policies, but they are minor compared to the spectrum of things the board has done right.

I hesitate to call this year's budget "perfect," but since a 12-person board of citizen representatives could not find a single flaw, statistically I suppose you could call it perfect. $65,340,419 in the budget, and not one penny needed to be moved.

Frankly, I find that astounding.

For any member of the general public interested in the size of his or her tax bill, for any resident who is concerned about the quality of education in town, please come to the Budget Committee's public hearing on the proposed 2011-12 School District Budget on Tuesday, February 8 at 7:00 pm in the APR room of Mastricola Elementary School.
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Re: Budget Committee decides nothing

Postby andysinnh » Fri Feb 04, 2011 12:05 pm

When I first saw this post by Matt, I wasn't sure what he meant by "decides nothing". And while it's true that the Budget Committe during its working session last night ultimately decided not to change the bottom line of the operating budget, the term "decides nothing" couldn't be further from the truth. This is my fourth year on the committee, and first as chairman. Based on my observation, I believe that the membership of the committee has scruitinized and researched the budget this year more than any of the previous years I've had the pleasure to serve on the committee. The majority of the members attended every school board budget meeting, and we had a significant number of questions posed by the members during our meetings as well as individually, working directly with department heads. We had new members on the committee who looked at things in perhaps a different light than some in the past, which is always a healthy thing to occur. I believe the membership as a whole deserves credit for their dedication and time spent on reviewing carefully what was proposed.

In Matt's post, he stated that there were approximately 20 separate motions made to adjust the budget last night, and those motions ranged from ADDING to the budget, to DELETING from the budget. We discussed each one extensively, allowing any member who wanted to propose a change a chance to persuade the rest of the committee with their logic and rationale. In each case, the majority of the committe felt that the budget that was presented to us was appropriate, and none of the changes proposed were approved by the majority of the committee. As such, while individual members may have areas of the budget they might have wanted to adjust, the majority of the committe seems to believe that the budget is prudent and proper thus far, based on the educational goals of the school district balanced with the budgetary aspects of what it will cost the town in 2011-2012. The final recommendation confirming this will be at next week's meeting. I encourage everyone to watch the recording either on the educational channel, or go to http://merrimacktv.com/online-video/school-board/ and look for the budget committee meetings, specifically the 3-Feb one that should be posted soon. It's almost 4 hours long in total (we reviewed the warrant articles for the new teachers contract and a capital reserve fund for a potential new SAU/SPED building), but virtually any question was asked and answered (and many times clarified) during that meeting. And I'm not too proud to admit I learned a few new things during those 4 hours, even though I've attended all the budget meetings this year. So it's very valuable.

I second Matt's recommendation to attend the Public Hearing on the School Budget next Tuesday, Feb 8 at 7:30pm at the Mastricola Elementary APR, so you can hear first-hand the level of detail the committee went through and our logic behind our recommendations that have been made thus far. After the public hearing, we'll have a final discussion on the operating budget, and then ultimate vote on the $$ amount and recommendations. The next step after that is the School District Deliberative Session on 7-March in JMUES APR.

andy
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Re: Budget Committee decides nothing

Postby TonyRichardson » Fri Feb 04, 2011 12:58 pm

Ah sarcasm
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Re: Budget Committee decides nothing

Postby TonyRichardson » Fri Feb 04, 2011 4:31 pm

So the bottom line is still going to be a choice between....

Option A - Default - Higher

Optioin B - recommended - higher still

Correct?
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Re: Budget Committee decides nothing

Postby andysinnh » Fri Feb 04, 2011 7:47 pm

TonyRichardson wrote:So the bottom line is still going to be a choice between....

Option A - Default - Higher

Optioin B - recommended - higher still

Correct?

Swap it around - Proposed Operating Budget is less than the default budget, at least as the warrant article stands now...
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Re: Budget Committee decides nothing

Postby Jeannine Stergios » Fri Feb 04, 2011 8:22 pm

What are the other articles on the ballot and how much money is involved?
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Re: Budget Committee decides nothing

Postby MattPublicover » Fri Feb 04, 2011 9:22 pm

One article calls for creating a capital reserve fund for the proposed new SAU/Special Ed office and putting $200,000 from the end-of year surplus into it or 20% of the surplus, whichever amount is lower. The proposed new building is, at this point, expected to be at least a couple of budget years out in the future, so the idea would be to build up some funds in the capital reserve account to reduce the amount that will have to be bonded when/if the residents approve the project. (Anticipated cost to build the office is $1.8 million)

The other article involves funding the proposed 2-year contract with the teachers' union. In a nutshell, the contract (like prior contracts) calls for step increases for the teachers, but they are also contributing more to their health care plans. The net amount that needs to be raised to cover year 1 of the contract is $180,656.

Unless there are any petitioned warrant articles that come forth between now and Monday, that's it for moneyed articles, except for the budget of course.
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Re: Budget Committee decides nothing

Postby andysinnh » Fri Feb 04, 2011 10:16 pm

Here's the link to the draft warrant articles on the district web site http://www.merrimack.k12.nh.us/news.cfm ... 8&school=0
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Re: Budget Committee decides nothing

Postby Jeannine Stergios » Sat Feb 05, 2011 12:28 am

I have a question:

ARTICLE 3 (Special Warrant Article) Shall the District vote to approve the cost items included in the collective bargaining agreement reached between the Merrimack School Board and the Merrimack Teachers Association which calls for the following increases in salaries and benefits:

Year Estimated Increase
2011-2012 $630,656
2012-2013 $647,041

and raise and appropriate the sum of One Hundred Eighty Thousand Six Hundred Fifty Six Dollars ($180,656) for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, such sum representing the 2011-2012 net costs attributable to (1) the increase in salaries and benefits described aboveover those of the 2010-2011 fiscal year and (2) a savings of Four Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars ($ 450,000) to be realized by the District due to an increase in the negotiated contribution level by the Merrimack Teachers Association towards the cost of their health insurance and other changes in the health plan design? (Majority Vote Required). (Recommended by the School Board Vote: 5-0-0).

Note: Pursuant to RSA 273-A:12, if approved, the terms of this collective bargaining agreement, including the pay plan, but excluding cost of living increases, will continue in force and effect after it expires in June 30 2013 unless and until a new agreement is executed.


Sounds like a bait and switch to me. This is a very confusing (is that intentional?) for the average voter entering the voting booth. When are we planning to include the tax rate impact on the school warrant articles like is done on the town issues?

First it states an increase of $630,656.00 and then states $186,656 for net costs above and over last year? But we save $450,000 in health insurance? We aren't "saving" anything if we have to increase spending by $800,000 in the first place for how many employees? Good grief - when will it ever end?

What happens if we say no? This is an outrage in the first place that anyone is getting a guaranteed raise for the next three years while we are cutting essential services for police and fire. UNBELIEVABLE! Who negotiated this contract?

Not to mention there are some rude awakenings coming to this town. Homes are selling for what they were selling for 10 years ago because people are losing them. Do you think they can afford a tax increase?

As far as their SAU building = get a chair lift and use some of the empty rooms in the schools. I will NOT support the funding for this building for a very long time. It's a whole lot of money being spent for very little benefit of the taxpayers and has ZERO benefit for the students.

I encourage everyone to vote NO on both articles. Will the teachers go on strike if we say no? Will the world come to an end if they do?
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Re: Budget Committee decides nothing

Postby TonyRichardson » Sat Feb 05, 2011 7:52 am

andysinnh wrote:
TonyRichardson wrote:So the bottom line is still going to be a choice between....

Option A - Default - Higher

Optioin B - recommended - higher still

Correct?

Swap it around - Proposed Operating Budget is less than the default budget, at least as the warrant article stands now...


Yet both are still higher than current?
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Re: Budget Committee decides nothing

Postby MattPublicover » Sat Feb 05, 2011 8:11 am

What happens if we say no?


That's a very valid question, Jeanine, and one that was addressed at length in the budget committee discussions. For the details, I am going to recommend you watch the meeting online. This was the first major order of business after approving the minutes. But a concise answer is that the voters will end up paying more in year 1 if we do NOT approve the contract because the salaries will remain flat but the way the health care benefits are calculated will also remain the same and will cost us an additional $450,000. So, by giving some on the salary side but taking back on the health care side, we have a net benefit of about $370,000 in year 1. Bottom line is, it is simply not possible to keep both salary and health care costs the same as this year and have no increase at all because the health care costs are going up and that is out of our control. Requiring the teachers to contribute more for the health care is a way the school board (not the budget committee) attempted to rein in the inflationary effects of health care on the overall budget.

Again, the details are fairly complicated, but this is the Cliff Notes version. Andy (I know you're reading), weigh in if I have misstated something.
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Re: Budget Committee decides nothing

Postby MattPublicover » Sat Feb 05, 2011 8:22 am

I encourage everyone to vote NO on both articles.


I applaud you for your activism, Jeanine, whether I agree with you or not. Certainly there will be many who do support the positions you state, just as there will be many who believe these articles are reasonable and necessary. I encourage EVERYONE to pay attention to what is going on in their town, form an opinion, express an opinion to the public and to the boards that make the decisions. Show your support and show your opposition.

The only way your voice will have no effect is if you do not use it. Just because an opinion is in the minority doesn't mean it ought not to be heard, and just because a decision goes against your views doesn't mean expressing your opinion had no effect on the public discourse.

At the public hearing this coming Tuesday, be aware that the budget committee has NO AUTHORITY to change dollar amounts or intent on the two warrant articles in question. All the budget committee does is offer a recommendation to the town on non-budget warrant articles involving money. However, if people have strong feelings about it either way, coming to the public hearing and speaking out will let others in the community know that they are not alone in their views, and that alone can end up swaying the final vote. Don't underestimate the power of your own voice.
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Re: Budget Committee decides nothing

Postby MissyB » Sat Feb 05, 2011 9:49 am

I am watching the replay of the Budget Committee meeting right now. Who pays for the field trip to DC, the students families or the taxpayers?
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Re: Budget Committee decides nothing

Postby TonyRichardson » Sat Feb 05, 2011 11:09 am

MissyB wrote:I am watching the replay of the Budget Committee meeting right now. Who pays for the field trip to DC, the students families or the taxpayers?



Either Both or just the taxpayers.

The taxpayers or on the hook for at least part of the cost.
The school staff involved are paid on our dime.
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Re: Budget Committee decides nothing

Postby Dennis King » Sat Feb 05, 2011 1:58 pm

MattPublicover wrote:The School Budget Committee decided NOTHING was the correct adjustment to make to the School Board's budget proposal. More than 20 amendments were proposed last night, some up, some down, but in the end, not a single amendment passed.

Zero. Zip. Nada.

After working off and on since the summertime, after meeting individually with each department head, after having every department head present his or her budget for a second time in a public forum, after deliberating for four hours last night, the end result is that the budget being presented to the public hearing next week is EXACTLY the same as it would have been if there were no Budget Committee at all.

I want to commend the School Board for coming up with a budget that was as tight as it could be without sacrificing the quality of education in Merrimack. I respect the board and its action, and I think they have been doing a consistently fine job for the past several years. I have some philosophical disagreements with certain policies, but they are minor compared to the spectrum of things the board has done right.

I hesitate to call this year's budget "perfect," but since a 12-person board of citizen representatives could not find a single flaw, statistically I suppose you could call it perfect. $65,340,419 in the budget, and not one penny needed to be moved.

Frankly, I find that astounding.

For any member of the general public interested in the size of his or her tax bill, for any resident who is concerned about the quality of education in town, please come to the Budget Committee's public hearing on the proposed 2011-12 School District Budget on Tuesday, February 8 at 7:00 pm in the APR room of Mastricola Elementary School.


$65,340,419? Sounds like an awful lot of money. Since this is for next year, can someone give me the projected enrollment for next year and while you are at it, if you like, please brake that down into per pupil cost. That figure should be enlightening. People are loosing their homes and still, more and more raises for the teachers! We are still reeling from the 21 percent raise over three years ago and of course the increase that made to the pension costs. Most of us in the real world are living on flat line salaries presuming we are lucky enough to keep our jobs. Those who lost them are no doubt working at a lower paying job yet the teachers who have jobs for life demand more and more from us. I am not anti teacher but we must be reasonable. I have a different take on the budget committee findings of no cuts whatsoever. If you see the members, the majority are clearly school supporters so as in the past, the rubber stamp comes out. This budget is 72 percent of our taxes and they get raised while the town workers face lay offs and once again no raises.
If someone has next years enrollment projections, I would appreciate that number. Just how much is this all costing us? I wonder if we offered a private company 45 million, just what would we get? Certainly 20 mil would save a lot and I could see restoring the cuts on the town side which would add about 1/2 million. We have choices in this town and the teachers have taken our control, often the default is no saving at all and we are left no choice but to give into their demands. This has nothing to do with quality, there are some great teachers but also some real duds who in the real world, would have been sent packing long ago but the union protects them, heck, they even get to vote for their own raises! The only answer is to privatize. The town just saved over a million dollars by outsourcing building maintenance. The school system still holds onto union custodians and the pensions are all killing us taxpayers. We should seriously look into charter schools for this town. We already have the Thompson school, not sure if that is a charter school or just a school within a school but I am confident we could make a charter work, a clean slate to start all over again.
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