At all levels, our government is structured to have checks and balances. Budgets especially should be scrutinized by many eyes. Currently the SAU’s budget does not have enough oversight. With your support of this citizen’s warrant article, we can correct that.
‘SAU’ stands for ‘School Administrative Unit’. Even as a member of the Timberlane Budget Committee, I have to admit it took me some time to understand that the SAU is a separate legal entity from the school districts. SAU 55 is the administrative body that runs the Timberlane School District and the Hampstead School District. Our SAU consists of the Superintendent, an Assistant Superintendent, a Business Administrator, an Assistant Business Administrator, a Director of Human Resources, a Transportation Coordinator and accompanying staff. Our SAU’s budget for 2013-2014 is $1,352,057, up 3.67% over 2012-2013. Just to be clear, none of this 1.3 million dollars goes to teacher salaries or to the schools themselves. This is strictly administration.
The citizen’s warrant article I am advancing, in conjunction with Jorge Mesa-Tejada in Hampstead, calls for the SAU budget to be voted on by residents. This gives more voice to voters in how their money is spent and provides a needed check and balance to the SAU itself.
Here’s how the present system works:
STEP 1: SAU makes up its own budget and presents it to the SAU board (made up of the Timberlane and Hampstead School Boards)
STEP 2: Once approved by the SAU board, there is a public hearing. The SAU is not required to change any aspect of their budget based on feedback from the public hearing which is why no one ever bothers to attend.
STEP 3: After the pro-forma public hearing, the SAU’s budget is placed into the Timberlane and Hampstead School Districts’ proposed budgets in proportion to each district’s share of the SAU’s costs.
At this point, you might think, as I did, that the school districts’ budget committees could then examine and change the SAU’s budget since it is a line item on the much larger proposed budget. Well, you would be wrong. The only line on the Timberlane budget that the Budget Committee cannot change is the SAU’s budget.**
With our current arrangement, only school board officials examine and approve the SAU budget. This is like having the Board of Selectmen alone vote on the town budget without the oversight of a budget committee or the possibility of rejection by the voters at large who have to foot the bill. After the Budget Committee works on the overall district budget, the entire budget goes to voters. The SAU budget is at this point one single line item on the much, much larger budget.
I hope you will agree with me that this is not a good way to manage any budget. Removing the SAU budget from the larger budget and requiring it to stand alone before voters will not then put it under the control of the Budget Committees, but it will allow the voters to judge if it is fair and reasonable which is a needed discipline for any organization running on taxpayer money.
A few people are working to collect the required number of signatures in Timberlane and Hampstead to put the warrant on March’s ballot. Come March, I hope you will vote for more taxpayer oversight and empowerment.
Here’s the petition, initiated by Mr. Mesa-Tejada:
Per the privileges granted to us under RSA 197:6, the undersigned, registered voters of the Timberlane Regional School District, hereby submit the following article for inclusion in the 2013 School District Warrant:
“Shall the voters of the Timberlane School District within School Administration Unit number 55 adopt the provisions of RSA 194-C: 9-b to allow for insertion of the school administrative unit budget as a separate warrant article at annual school district meetings?” (Simple majority vote required.)
Here’s a link to NH RSAs to read the statutes cited in the warrant: NH RSA search engine (Search for 197:6 and 194-C:9-b )
** Correction: Previously I had written that the SAU budget was the only line in Timberlane and Hampstead’s budget that couldn’t be changed. This is true only for Timberlane. Apologies to Hampstead.