Opinion

Here’s a to-do list for passing new budget

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To the Editor and Citizens of SAD #4/RSU 80,
The first referendum vote for the FY18 budget in SAD #4/RSU 80 has failed. A new interim superintendent and bookkeeper are about to take over on a part-time basis. The school committee must step up and pull itself together. The board’s leadership is critical going forward to make progress on both passing a workable budget and facing the need to improve instruction in the classrooms in the district, which happens to enjoy very favorable class sizes.

In order to pass the budget for next year, there is a sizeable list of things that NEED to happen to restore stability and credibility to the affairs of the district. They are as follows:

The board leadership needs to reorganize NOW. Normal reorganization should have occurred in April. It did not. All board members, new and seasoned, need to be assigned to the various subcommittees, especially the budget and the curriculum committees. If there is policy regarding the assignment process, use it. In the absence of policy, prior action should suffice. Regarding the finance committee, it has been past practice to set a board membership quota at eight persons with at least one member from each town represented. These other individuals currently being put “on” the committee are resources for the committee, not members. New members should have full, informed, responsive input. To date they have been stonewalled and the entire sub-committee has had inadequate details to understand and track the sub-lines of the budget, of which there are over a 1000. The entire sub- committee is entitled to and needs the costs allocated for all personnel positions. Names do not need to be attached, but each position as it currently exists or is being budgeted for filling should be known, with salary separated from the actual cost of health benefits.

The public should NOT pass any budget for the future that uses ONLY fund balance, now “discovered,” as a remedy for lowering the towns’ assessments. Huge fund balance is evidence that the board is grossly overestimating its expenses and underestimating the district’s anticipated revenues, which means going to the public for tax money before real need. Budget reduction MUST be based on cutting expenses. Otherwise, the budget building and approval process will become increasingly more difficult, as it has from last year to this. It is already utterly out of control; the board has to know it, but persists in ignoring it.

Numerous opportunities exist within this first-presented budget, that do NOT require cutting programs for students. They include as follows:

Cut the contingency account of $55,000. Given the gross annual fund balances, there is NO need for a contingency account. It only serves to tax the citizens ahead of need, which is not acceptable in the current economy.

Cut the approximately $15,000 in the same area for the manager of the hot lunch program. Put it out in the proprietary hot lunch account (outside the general chart of accounts) and make the program pay for itself. Meld the financial position with head cook. Many school systems of this size have already done so. And take the other half of the position out of the central office. It is not easy to run a paying program, but it is possible, and the expectation should be attached to the requirements of the position.

Cut the $35, 000 from the special ed administration account for the potential placement of a child in an outside program. It has been there for more than three years and has not been tapped. It is merely building fund balance and personnel comfort, which is a word that should never be attached to budgeting on an institutional level. Fund balance can cover if ever needed.

Cut the $20,000 that has been added to the technology account for the potential consulting of a current employee who is leaving. This employee has accepted another position and is going to be busy. The district is supposed to have a written technology plan that lays out future direction. It is also a fact that the district focuses on the supply-side notion of technology with underuse of all the technology it currently owns. Students do not need iPads to take home every night. They might do better with a paper and pencil, if they only could write!

And, of course, there are potential savings in the personnel accounts, if the budget committee only knew what was in them.

Stop accepting that the fund balance is being created by “freezing” the budget. It is not even reasonably possible to generate the kind of fund balance being achieved by freezing the small articulated sub-lines such as supplies and library books. The real sums are buried in the larger personnel accounts, that nobody has either insisted on seeing , nor certainly been provided with when asked for. The past and current administrations have suffered under the misdirected notion that the board works for them; not the reverse.

The school committee needs to get itself pulled together; it needs to encourage the thoughts of the new members, instead of insulting them. The committee has a tremendous amount of work in front of it and is wasting its time approaching the reality of diminished public money like the proverbial ostrich. Settle down; get the budget settled because there is a dire need to determine the future of the high school and to examine and structure curriculum and classroom instruction. Then we’ll be thinking about and acting on the behalf of students. The current school generation has been cheated; don’t let it continue. Abandon adult comfort in favor of youthful achievement.
Thank you,
Ann B. Bridge
Parkman

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