Is having the Budget Committee a good idea?

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Re: Is having the Budget Committee a good idea?

Postby andysinnh » Thu Feb 16, 2012 7:47 pm

Jeannine Stergios wrote:Rick I think I'm the one who mentioned the times when only 3 board members have been present

Jeannine - we both did, actually, and that observation from this (and previous) years is one of the first things that came to my mind when I first heard of Tim's warrant article. It'd be interesting, for example, if a DS change to the warrant article was proposed to reflect subtraction (BC) plus addition (SB members). I might feel more comfortable, but would have to think about it more. There are other options, but anything creative addressing this particular issue is at least a step in the right direction ... Of course, voting the article down would allow time to think this through for more options...

andy
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Re: Is having the Budget Committee a good idea?

Postby ggkrupp » Thu Feb 16, 2012 8:07 pm

I think a warrant to add SB members should be done on its own. It muddies the water on this warrant to combine the two issues. I am sure there is some group of people that are for the removal of the BC but against adding more SB members while there are bound to be some who are for keeping the BC but would like to see more members on the SB. By putting them both in the same warrant you put those groups in a no-win. They should be dealt with separately in my opinion.
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Re: Is having the Budget Committee a good idea?

Postby lynn » Fri Feb 17, 2012 8:31 am

you would not be allowed to amend the petitioned article to increase the number of SB members
there will only be 5 board members for the coming year - no way to change now
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Re: Is having the Budget Committee a good idea?

Postby andysinnh » Fri Feb 17, 2012 10:54 am

lynn wrote:you would not be allowed to amend the petitioned article to increase the number of SB members
there will only be 5 board members for the coming year - no way to change now

Correct - any change like that would necessitate additions at the next election. completely understood. Still not sure that's the best approach - but as it sits, I don't think it's the right thing to be asking without more due-dilligence. My concern is that the petitioners' statements are the "cons" in a pro/con list of the benefits. We need an overall pro/con list of the district's needs before we jump to a decision.
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Re: Is having the Budget Committee a good idea?

Postby ggkrupp » Fri Feb 17, 2012 11:43 am

This topic has been discussed for almost a year in this thread alone and has certainly been debated elsewhere before that. I don't think that the petitioners (full disclosure: I am one of them) are "jumping" to any decisions. Many of us are coming to the conclusion over much thoughtful consideration. I don't think we need a year long charter commission to analyze the impact of removing a committee that rarely impacts the budget in any meaningful way. This is not a case where we are rebuilding the school governing body from the ground up like the Charter did. This is a tweak to our process to better utilize scarce resources and become more efficient in the use of those resources.

The BC has had more than 5 years as a "School only" BC to prove its worth to the community and it is a good time, in my view, to ask the voters whether to continue down this path. Disbanding the committee wouldn't preclude others who see the merits in a better-defined committee (or larger school board) from petitioning in future years for a new solution.
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Re: Is having the Budget Committee a good idea?

Postby Jeannine Stergios » Fri Feb 17, 2012 3:25 pm

andy

I don't see the need to hem and haw about this. The taxpayers spend $65mil on schools - I believe they deserve a 7 person School Board if there is no BC.
Someone should get an article written and at least toss it out there to see how people feel. I would, but I can barely get around nowadays.
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Re: Is having the Budget Committee a good idea?

Postby ggkrupp » Fri Feb 17, 2012 4:50 pm

Jeannine Stergios wrote:andy

I don't see the need to hem and haw about this. The taxpayers spend $65mil on schools - I believe they deserve a 7 person School Board if there is no BC.
Someone should get an article written and at least toss it out there to see how people feel. I would, but I can barely get around nowadays.


I would support an article that puts this question on the ballot. I am not sure if I would vote for it but I think it is a fair question. Unless I am mistaken though, it will have to wait until next year as Lynn says because the deadline for petitioned warrant articles has passed.

Another thing I will point out is that the gross budgeting figure for the school district is indeed $65M. One thing that should be remembered though is that 21% of that number ($14M this year) is dedicated to Special Education and is virtually untouchable no matter how many members sit on the SB based on current State and Federal Law.

Furthermore, another $1.3M comes from the food service department which is completely self-sustaining (no tax impact). Gross budgeting rules require that all money spent by the District be shown in the budget to guard against accounting games (this is a good thing). So the revenue taken in by food service is put in on one side of the school budget ledger while its expenses are taken out on the other side of the ledger. In all but a couple of years, this part of the budget has had no impact on the rest of the budget. The thing that causes confusion is that voters can get the idea that the "pass through" budget items (like Adult Education, Food Service, Drivers Ed, etc.) are adding to their tax bill. With the exception of the small amount of your Federal tax bill that goes to support the Federal School Lunch Program, that is not the case.
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Re: Is having the Budget Committee a good idea?

Postby andysinnh » Fri Feb 17, 2012 9:37 pm

Jeannine Stergios wrote:andy

I don't see the need to hem and haw about this. The taxpayers spend $65mil on schools - I believe they deserve a 7 person School Board if there is no BC.
Someone should get an article written and at least toss it out there to see how people feel. I would, but I can barely get around nowadays.

Jeannine - the deadline for a petitioned warrant article ended 3 days ago, so nothing could be done for this year, unfortunately....
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Re: Is having the Budget Committee a good idea?

Postby andysinnh » Fri Feb 17, 2012 9:39 pm

ggkrupp wrote:This topic has been discussed for almost a year in this thread alone and has certainly been debated elsewhere before that. I don't think that the petitioners (full disclosure: I am one of them) are "jumping" to any decisions. Many of us are coming to the conclusion over much thoughtful consideration. I don't think we need a year long charter commission to analyze the impact of removing a committee that rarely impacts the budget in any meaningful way. This is not a case where we are rebuilding the school governing body from the ground up like the Charter did. This is a tweak to our process to better utilize scarce resources and become more efficient in the use of those resources.

The BC has had more than 5 years as a "School only" BC to prove its worth to the community and it is a good time, in my view, to ask the voters whether to continue down this path. Disbanding the committee wouldn't preclude others who see the merits in a better-defined committee (or larger school board) from petitioning in future years for a new solution.

Simply put, the debate about the viability of the BC has been done by a small group who feel that it doesn't function the way they feel is effective. It has not been debated more broadly with a cross-section of people who have varying viewpoints on the process - and that includes parents and others who are concerned about the budget and also the deliverables. This is a serious set of question and deserves a review more broadly than just to cut the BC. Period.

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Re: Is having the Budget Committee a good idea?

Postby andysinnh » Fri Feb 17, 2012 9:43 pm

ggkrupp wrote:
Jeannine Stergios wrote:andy

I don't see the need to hem and haw about this. The taxpayers spend $65mil on schools - I believe they deserve a 7 person School Board if there is no BC.
Someone should get an article written and at least toss it out there to see how people feel. I would, but I can barely get around nowadays.


I would support an article that puts this question on the ballot. I am not sure if I would vote for it but I think it is a fair question. Unless I am mistaken though, it will have to wait until next year as Lynn says because the deadline for petitioned warrant articles has passed.

Another thing I will point out is that the gross budgeting figure for the school district is indeed $65M. One thing that should be remembered though is that 21% of that number ($14M this year) is dedicated to Special Education and is virtually untouchable no matter how many members sit on the SB based on current State and Federal Law.

Furthermore, another $1.3M comes from the food service department which is completely self-sustaining (no tax impact). Gross budgeting rules require that all money spent by the District be shown in the budget to guard against accounting games (this is a good thing). So the revenue taken in by food service is put in on one side of the school budget ledger while its expenses are taken out on the other side of the ledger. In all but a couple of years, this part of the budget has had no impact on the rest of the budget. The thing that causes confusion is that voters can get the idea that the "pass through" budget items (like Adult Education, Food Service, Drivers Ed, etc.) are adding to their tax bill. With the exception of the small amount of your Federal tax bill that goes to support the Federal School Lunch Program, that is not the case.

Statistics don't lie, and today you're right the budget "untouchables" are in these areas. But over the next several years, we're gonna hit multi-million dollar infrastructure decisions that need proper attention. If we cut the BC and don't have a well-thought-out process in place to manage these decisions, we're gonna have a lot of angst in the system. Planning ahead of time to have the proper, well-vetted process and oversight in place, is prudent.

Gary - I just don't understand your reluctance to look at the bigger picture before getting rid of a governing body. Why the urgency? The picture isn't only the previous 5 years - but the 30 years before that - and the 10+ years to come.

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Re: Is having the Budget Committee a good idea?

Postby ggkrupp » Fri Feb 17, 2012 11:22 pm

andysinnh wrote:
Gary - I just don't understand your reluctance to look at the bigger picture before getting rid of a governing body. Why the urgency? The picture isn't only the previous 5 years - but the 30 years before that - and the 10+ years to come.

andy


Because I don't see the big picture the same way that you do, you assume I am not looking at it. I simply don't share your view that this is a major change when I look at the big picture.
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Re: Is having the Budget Committee a good idea?

Postby FromMerrimack » Sat Feb 18, 2012 5:46 am

Would someone please enlighten me...
I read earlier that the Budget Committee oversight of the school budget is limited to the bottom line. It is my experience, years ago on the Town side, that the Budget Committee performed a line item by line item review of the whole budget and made adjustments per line according to many votes. For emphasis, though with a foggy memory, I seem to recall that one year the Selectmen had cut a position, engineer I think, and the Budget Committee restored the position. Though I didn't like the restoration, my point now is to understand the authority of the committee. If with analysis, debate, and vote they have the ability to make line item adjustments on my behalf, I am all in favor of keeping the committee. If their power is limited to the bottom line after looking at all the line items, which is what we can do anyway at the Deliberative Session, then we really don't need them. (And yes I know that the School Board, like the Town Council and the MVD Commissioners, can take the bottom line sum and determine actual expenditures as they deem appropriate so long as purpose has been identified in a line item somewhere).

Just asking.
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Re: Is having the Budget Committee a good idea?

Postby MattPublicover » Sat Feb 18, 2012 7:56 am

The School Budget Committee does perform a complete review of the budget, not literally line by line but in as much depth as any individual member chooses to delve. They are then free to make amendments to the budget, up or down, on a line by line basis, which adjusts the bottom line. The budget prepared by the Budget Committee, not the School Board, is the one that goes forward to the Deliberative Session. Therefore, even if the bottom line remains the same, it is possible that the allocation of resources among lines or departments is different from what the School Board originally proposed.

However, in actual practice, the School Board has wide leeway to move funds around within their budget during the fiscal year, as long as they do not overspend the bottom line. This is what gives rise to the often-stated position that the Budget Committee really only has a say on the bottom line, even though the adjustments they make are calculated on a line-by-line basis.

If it were possible to have a budget committee that could actually dictate that the funds be spent the way they specify, then that budget committee would have line-item authority to affect spending. I do not believe the RSAs allow for such a committee, because that would, in effect, make the budget committee the executive body. The School Board exists to run the district and execute the voters wishes, which is why they have leeway to move money around within the budget for emergencies, for policy reasons, or technically whatever reason they choose.

In practice, the School Board has shown some deference to budgetary changes made by the budget committee, or by voters at the deliberative session, but they are under no obligation to do so. Nor have they honored the changes 100% of the time. It would be different if the School Board had a philosophy of following the BC or deliberative session changes to the letter, but they don't, nor do I expect to ever see a school board choose voluntarily to so restrict themselves.

So the notion that the budget committee only recommends a bottom line is true in both theory and in practice.
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Re: Is having the Budget Committee a good idea?

Postby Tim Tenhave » Sat Feb 18, 2012 10:17 am

Andy,

I believe you are misrepresenting my intent, my thought process, all my points on this article, and my actions.

I submitted the petition warrant article early (11 days early). This allowed your Committee and the public to understand what was coming. That was intentional as I did not want it to appear the article was done in haste or without a full thought process. You and I exchanged emails on the article and we spoke for some time on the phone. During our emails and conversation you expressed the same concern about the size of the School Board. You also expressed a concern about the time spent thinking about this removal article. I thought after this discussion that you and I had on the phone and after our emails last week that you had the following two thoughts. One, that I have spent quite some time thinking this whole removal through. And two, that there was plenty of time for you to submit a petitioned warrant article to change the size of the School Board if you wanted to do that.

I provided you advice on how to draft the petition. You informed me that you would consider the petition but had not decided to go down that road. I told you that you would easily be able to get the signatures for such a petition if you wanted to get that done. That was at least 5 days before the deadline for petitioned warrant articles.

I believe we had a very polite and heart felt exchange of views. There were no loud voices during our conversation and I thought that we disagreed on the removal but that it was a very polite disagreement.

You also offered me an opportunity to speak to the article at the public hearing and I decided to take you up on your offer. My comments and yours can be viewed online (http://merrimacktv.com/online-video/school-board/ - February 14th BC meeting).

During your comments on Tuesday night you stated there was no due diligence in the decision to move this petition forward. You have also stated that here in this thread. I submit you wrong on that point. I hope you are not raising this simply because you disagree with the article and that this comment helps to justify your disagreement. I never take action without significant thought, significant discussions with others, and without significant homework and research. My public life shows that to be the case.

I have spent years discussing this petition and have waited years to see if the Budget Committee would show a reason for me not to move forward with the petition.

You are representing my views on this thread as only showing the cons. I also disagree. On Tuesday I raised a number of pros as to why this is a good idea. Please don’t disregard those points as they are significant.

In the days coming I will summarize my thoughts on this petition and present them here and to the larger public. I will speak at the Deliberative Session along with others who do not view or participate here.

Let’s not act out of fear for something that is different. Let’s not let it dictate our thought process on what is good for the big picture. Open your mind to the possibility and take the time to make your decision after hearing all the points on this petition.

Remember we are all neighbors. We are all people who have the District’s best interests at heart.

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Re: Is having the Budget Committee a good idea?

Postby andysinnh » Sat Feb 18, 2012 4:13 pm

Tim - Your characterization of our conversations prior to the BC meeting is correct, and we did speak calmly and frankly about the warrant article. The reason I chose NOT to submit a petitioned warrant article is because I wasn't then (and am still not today) sure of what the best alternative is. So why present a warrant article if it's not thought out? I chose not to. (fyi, it was only about 4 days prior to the deadline when we spoke, and I'd only heard about your petitioned warrant article a couple days before that, so the 11 day period you speak of wasn't really something most everyone was aware of).

Yes, I did offer you the ability to speak to your warrant, and I wouldn't ever change my mind on that - I'd offer it up again. I was a little taken aback, however, was during your fairly lengthy and detailed discussion. While there were some "pros" you discussed, the "cons" were certainly significant, and some of your characterizations (in my view) weren't accurate. One in particular was around the "policy" aspect. True, sometimes the discussion talks about something bumping into "policy". But I know that I personally have tried to steer our discussions to non-policy-related topics, and when a motion would be made that would directly impact policy, I would try to explain that aspect and discourage members from supporting it because of its potential impact. I think if you look back to the middle school team discussions we had 2 years ago, you'll find me on record concerned about policy-impacting our discussions - and I actually abstained on two votes on the topic.

During your time in front of the committee, you also pretty clearly stated that you didn't expect the BC to state a position or vote on a recommendation about your warrant article - which I agree with. And when it did come time for the members to state their viewpoints, I think most either hadn't thought enough about it to have crafted an opinion, or were choosing to do so at a more committee-neutral opportunity, such as the DS. I chose to speak only because I won't have a voice at the DS - and perhaps that's why I'm speaking here. I agree the proper place is at the DS.

But for me, my position is clear. I'm in FULL AGREEMENT that we should discuss the validity of the BC, and whether other options make sense, But your warrant article speaks to only ONE aspect of this - disband the BC - and not a more holistic approach. You've made a clear case from your viewpoint as to why what we have today doesn't work. And by doing so, you actually REMOVE any existence of the "pros" that you stated in your summary to the BC on Tuesday. The lack of a BC does remove some value from the process, and removal of the BC without any other option means we'll have less. As we discussed on the phone, there are several options as to what could exist in its place. But if your warrant passes, it'll be up to the informal effort of people like me to get that heard, and there's no guarantee we'll have a forum to even make any headway. A second warrant article, at best case, would have asked the district to evaluate the next-steps - but not sure how binding it would have been.

In closing, here's where my philosophy differs from others. My belief is that you don't take something away without having a complete evaluation of the alternative options, allowing others to participate in the discussion, and make those options available to the broader voting public to make a decision. This warrant just asks to remove - not whether there's another option. And maybe it's goodness this is out there to cause discussion to occur. It's just that, in typical fashion in this town, we're all rushing to evaluate something at the last minute, and essentially at the will of those who have the time or opportunity in a fairly short time to put their viewpoints forward. This is certainly different than the way the town charter was evaluated, and I'd hoped that something more open and cross-functional could have occurred. And maybe it still will. I just don't support the overall way this is moving forward.

This will likely be my last post on this topic, as I think my thoughts are out there pretty formally now. And I'm sure many are likely thinking that I'm just a "sour grapes" person since I am on this committee today, and the warrant asks that it be disbanded. However, those who know me understand I have zero political ambitions, and I only got involved in this process 5 years ago to help make sure that the "average parent" still had a role in evaluating the budget, in addition to the 5 member SB who certainly were (and are) advocates of the school distict already. Extra involvement is never a bad thing, and I believe that the budget for our schools is a much more emotional and important thing than the budget for our town, since the day-to-day education of our children is the deliverable. I personally want to see this level of citizen budgetary involvement for the school to continue in some way as we move forward. Why? Because the knowledge we on the budget committee gain - and also share with the public during our deiberations - is always a benefit to parents as they walk into the voting booth.

Sincerely - Andy (parent and also a product of the Merrimack school district)
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