About Default Budgets, and Jan. 10th Hearing

Back from a refreshing holiday break, it’s time for me to get back to weekly postings.  Let’s start with the mystery of default budgets.

This year, as in quite a few previous years, the TRSD default budget is LARGER than the proposed budget.  Since the default budget is based on a previously approved budget, you would expect the default budget to be smaller than the proposed budget, especially since the 2013-2014 proposed budget is 2% more than last year’s budget.  To understand this seemingly implausible situation, let’s look at the definition of “default budget” as given by state statute:

RSA 40:13, IX (b) “Default budget” as used in this subdivision means the amount of the same appropriations as contained in the operating budget authorized for the previous year, reduced and increased, as the case may be, by debt service, contracts, and other obligations previously incurred or mandated by law, and reduced by one-time expenditures contained in the operating budget. For the purposes of this paragraph, one-time expenditures shall be appropriations not likely to recur in the succeeding budget, as determined by the governing body, unless the provisions of RSA 40:14-b are adopted, of the local political subdivision. (RSA 40:14)

This year’s default budget is $146,000 higher than the proposed budget because certain large contractual obligations have hit the district that must be paid; namely,  employer retirement contributions (offloaded from the state) and employee insurance premium increases.

As I’ve said before, a 2% increase does not seem all that unreasonable but this must be combined with the teacher’s salary increases as ratified in their new three-year contract which gives a $2 million raise to teachers over 3 years. To date, the breakdown of the district’s year by year costs of this contract, should it be approved by voters in March, is not available from the SAU so no one can yet say what the total district budget increase will be year by year.  My guess, and it is just a guess, is somewhere around 3.5% for 2013-2014 but, disappointingly, no one seems to yet know.

Just so you know how things work, the Budget Committee approved the 2% (1.98%) increase without knowing what the outcome of the teachers’ contract negotiations would be. Had the Budget Committee waited just one or two weeks before accepting the budget, the committee would have known the negotiation outcome. But hind sight, as they say, is 20-20. The board’s feeling, if I may be so bold as to generalize, was that the budget was fair for the district’s needs and the teachers’ contract was completely independent. While this is true, it overlooks the taxpayers’ reality. A 2% budget increase along with a $2 million contract increase made me regret not being more aggressive in trying to restrain costs, even though I hardly knew how to begin.

In related news, the Timberlane Regional School District will have a public hearing on school warrant articles and the proposed budget on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013 at the Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m.  Seldom is there much public in these public hearings, which is discouraging to your representatives who must soldier on, in my case, plowing through the fog of their own inexperience. Today I submitted a citizen’s petition signed by 74 people from the Timberlane district, requesting that the SAU budget be separated from the school districts’ budgets and be put before the voters as a stand-alone budget. If all goes well, this petition will be read publicly on Jan. 10th, beginning a short campaign to give voters just a little more control over how their money is spent. Many thanks to Ed Mencis, Linda Meehan, Brenda Copp, Cathy Gorman, and Len Mullen for their help in  obtaining signatures and spreading the word.

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Filed under Budget Committee, SAU petition

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