Monthly Archives: February 2013

A Statistical Snapshot of the School District

Here’s a quick statistical snapshot of our district. You can see a steady  decline in total enrollment since fall 2007.  Teacher/student ratios are also changing.  In 2004-2005 we had one teacher to 12 students and one assistant to 24 students.  In 2010-2011, there was one teacher to 10.5 students and one assistant for every 22.5 students.  Enrollment went down again in 2011-2012.

Don’t miss clicking on the link to Timberlane’s budget growth from 2004 to 2013  (approx. 38%)  along with the SAU’s budget (40.75% in 9 years).

   Staffing to Students at Timberlane Regional School District

Year

Teachers

Assistants

Admin

Students

2004-2005

385

193

41

4633 (no date)

2005-2006

395

190

41

4592 (1/06)

2006-2007

403

192

41

4535 (9/06)

2007-2008

409

198

38

4653 (10/07)

2008-2009

415

195

36

4496 (10/08)

2009-2010

413

190

35

4398 (10/09)

2010-2011

408

189

34

4275 (10/10)

2011-2012

399

185

35

4162 (10/11)

4072 (10/12)

 *All figures from TRSD Annual Reports published at Timberlane.net

Growth in budget 2004-2012 rev 2013

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Filed under 2013 TRSD Warrant Articles, Budget Committee, School Board Issues

My Vote on TRSD Warrant Articles

Members of the Timberlane Regional School District Budget Committee are asked to recommend district warrant articles.  Let me explain my recommendations… briefly so I can catch the end of the Oscars.

Article 2 – Operating Budget  My recommendation:  NO

I originally supported the budget, not because I understood it very well, but because it was presented as showing no increase over last year’s budget except for costs imposed on the district by the state pension plan for teachers and increased employee health insurance.   Then I realized, belatedly,  that I had approved a budget that probably had built into it a $2 million surplus, based on the previous year’s surplus that had been staring me in the face but which my inexperience let me miss. Thanks to Len Mullen’s blog, I subsequently learned that our bond interest savings of $80,000 had been gobbled up in the new budget when that could have been a captured budget reduction. At Deliberative, $150,000 was added to the budget for athletic grounds maintenance.  I’m afraid that was the last straw for my support of the 2013-2014 budget. The default budget is fractionally smaller and I will be supporting that budget.

UPDATE (3/2/13) “School Board Notes” mailed to households in the district last week states that the Budget Committee unanimously recommended a $64,422,418 budget. This is not correct.  The Budget Committee unanimously recommended a $64,272,418 budget.  This number was increased at Deliberative by $150,000 and at the subsequent Budget Committee meeting immediately after Deliberative, I was the sole vote against the proposed budget.

Article 3 – Capital Reserve Fund   My recommendation:  YES

A capital reserve fund gives the district money for needed capital improvements.

Article 4 – Collective Bargaining Agreement (Timberlane Teacher’s Association)   My recommendation:  NO

The contract gives teachers a raise regardless of their effectiveness in the classroom. We are the consumers here and we have the power to send a message to the administration that teachers must be held accountable for the academic achievement of their students. We should insist that teachers are cut based on effectiveness, not number of years teaching. Other provisions in the contract are objectionable by any reasonable standard that taxpayers would enjoy in the workplace… accumulated sick days with monetary value, a retirement incentive and a longevity bonus.  See my more detailed objections: New Teacher’s Contract : Money First, Education Last as Usual

Article 5 – Authorization on Special Meeting on Cost Items   My recommendation: YES

My NO vote recorded on the article was an error on my part.   After further consideration, I do support this article.

Article 6 – Fund Balance Retention [Surplus]  My Recommendation:  NO

My NO vote was mistakenly left off Deliberative’s warrant but this should be corrected on the actual ballot.

See my detailed argument against this article:  Fund Balance Retention and Why You Should Vote NO

Article 7 – General Acceptance of Reports   My Recommendation:  YES

Who could say no?

Article 8 – SAU Budget on Warrant Petition by Donna Green et al

Petition warrant articles are not recommended by the school board or the budget committee.  As you might suspect, I strongly support this warrant article.Why the SAU Budget Should Have Voter Oversight

Onto the polls, voters!   (But first a stop for some popcorn…)

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Filed under 2013 TRSD Warrant Articles

Fund Balance Retention and Why You Should Vote NO

When you establish a pot of money for unexpected expenses you inevitably end up guaranteeing the unexpected.  Ever notice that?

On March 12th, Timberlane voters are going to be asked to let the district retain some budget surplus in a fund for future over-expenditures.  On the basis of vagueness alone, Article 6 should be defeated. On the basis of need, it should also be defeated.

The potential surplus fund could be GIANT

I believe the district’s intention is to carry a portion of just one year’s surplus in the contingency fund, but you will notice that the language of the warrant article is completely vague on this point. The fund could be understood to be cumulative year after year. Approving this article could lead to a huge contingency fund that outstrips any reasonable need. (The referenced RSAs are reproduced at the end of this note.)

Article 6:  Shall the Timberlane Regional School District vote to authorize, indefinitely until rescinded, the retention of year-end unassigned general funds in an amount not to exceed, in any fiscal year, 2.5 percent of the current fiscal year’s net assessment, for the purpose of having funds on hand to use as a revenue source for emergency expenditures and over-expenditures under RSA 32:11, or to be used as a revenue source to reduce the tax rate, all in accordance with 198:4-b, II?

Whoever wrote the enabling legislation, intentionally or unintentionally, left it open to the interpretation of future school boards as to whether the fund is cumulative or not.

How each year’s amount is calculated

In 2011-2012 Timberlane’s net assessment was $52,711,205.  Two and a half percent of this is $1.32 million.  Keep in mind that the surplus from 2010-2011 year was $2.2 million.  As things stand now, surpluses are returned to the taxpayers in the following budget year by way of lowering the tax impact of next year’s budget. If you allow the creation of this surplus retention fund, the district could sock away as much as $1.3 million, money that may or may not be returned to the taxpayers.  Just imagine how large this fund could become if it accumulated year after year.

It isn’t needed

The district has a capital reserve fund for  the purpose of  “school building construction, reconstruction, capital improvement and land purchase.”  Major emergency expenditures, such as a new roof, septic system, boiler, etc., all fall under capital improvements.  I have not heard a case for sizable emergency expenditures that fall outside the scope of the already existing capital reserve fund.

This contingency fund is not needed and the authorizing language is so vague as to authorize more than voters would reasonably want to approve.

___________________________________________________________________________

RESOURCES:

Timberlane Warrant articles and budget    You will see Article 6 has one “No” vote from the budget committee.  That was from your humble correspondent.

Here are the relevant RSAs

Section 198:4-b   Contingency Fund. –

I. A school district annually by an article in the warrant, or the governing body of a city upon recommendation of the school board, when the operation of the schools is by a department of the city, may establish a contingency fund to meet the cost of unanticipated expenses that may arise during the year. A detailed report of all expenditures from the contingency fund shall be made annually by the school board and published with their report.
II. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a school district by a vote of the legislative body may authorize, indefinitely until specific rescission, the school district to retain year-end unassigned general funds in an amount not to exceed, in any fiscal year, 2.5 percent of the current fiscal year’s net assessment pursuant to RSA 198:5, for the purpose of having funds on hand to use as a revenue source for emergency expenditures and over-expenditures under RSA 32:11, or to be used as a revenue source to reduce the tax rate.
III. The legislative body of the city of Manchester, upon recommendation of the school committee, may authorize, indefinitely until specific rescission, the school district to retain year-end unassigned general funds.

32:11 Emergency Expenditures and Overexpenditures. – When an unusual circumstance arises during the year which makes it necessary to expend money in excess of an appropriation which may result in an overexpenditure of the total amount appropriated for all purposes at the meeting or when no appropriation has been made, the selectmen or village district commissioners, upon application to the commissioner of revenue administration or the school board upon application to the commissioner of education, may be given authority to make such expenditure, provided that:
I. Such application shall be made prior to the making of such expenditure. No such authority shall be granted until a majority of the budget committee, if any, has approved the application in writing. If there is no budget committee, the governing body shall hold a public hearing on the request, with notice as provided in RSA 91-A:2.
II. The commissioner of revenue administration or the commissioner of education may accept and approve an application after expenditure if caused by a sudden or unexpected emergency, in which case paragraph I shall not apply.

III. Neither the commissioner of revenue administration nor the commissioner of education shall approve such expenditure unless the governing body designates the source of revenue to be used. Neither commissioner shall have the authority to increase the town or district’s tax rate in order to fund such expenditure.

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Filed under 2013 TRSD Warrant Articles, Budget Committee

Why the SAU Budget Should Have Voter Oversight

As you may know, I’ve been promoting a citizen’s warrant article that will be appearing on the March ballot.  It asks voters if they are in favor of separating SAU 55’s budget from the Timberlane and Hampstead school districts’ budgets.

Stripping out the SAU budget from the much larger school district budget is logical, easy and prudent.

LOGICAL

Many people don’t know this, but the SAU is a separate corporation, completely independent from the school districts it administers. The SAU drafts its own budget.  This budget is then entered as an unchangeable line item in the school districts’ budgets and is automatically approved when the districts’ budgets are approved by voters.  Separate corporations with separate budgets should have a separate process of acceptance with voters directly.  There is no logical reason to put a budget within a budget.  The current arrangement deprives voters of a say with no offsetting benefit to the public whatsoever.

EASY

Since the SAU budget is a stand alone budget, it can easily be presented on its own to the voters.  Absolutely no additional administrative work would be required.

PRUDENT

Budgets that do not face the voters are budgets that do not face the highest scrutiny. When public money is on the line, taxpayers want as many eyes looking at expenditures as possible.  This a healthy discipline for any corporation being funded by public money.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY

So far I’ve heard three objections to this citizen’s petition.

1) “It won’t make any difference, one way or the other.”   In other words, the SAU budget is so small that giving voters the chance to vote on it will have no effect on the overall costs of the school districts involved.  There is some truth to this, but the argument misses the point.  Yes, the SAU budget is a minnow swimming along side a whale.  The proposed 2013-2014 Timberlane budget is $64,000,000 .  The SAU’s budget for 2013-2014 is a mere $1,352,000. About $1 million of that is paid by Timberlane, the balance by Hampstead.

Why be concerned about $1 million when Timberlane’s budget is of such overwhelming consequence?  Well, let’s see.  There’s the fact that $1 million is buying us administrative services only — no teachers, no maintenance staff, nothing but administration.  We need administration, certainly, but $1 million is a lot of money and you can be sure the administrative costs are not going to stay a mere $1 million going forward. The SAU has given its employees a 2.5% raise for 2013-2014. In this academic year, the SAU staff got a 2% raise. If you compound the last four annual salary increases, the SAU staff has gotten a 9.5% increase in four years alone.

2) “This is really an issue of trust.  The SAU board, which approves the SAU budget, is made up of the elected school board members from Timberlane and Hampstead. They should be trusted to deal with the SAU budget.”  Whenever someone tells me to trust him, I immediately check my pockets and count the silver. Our government is wisely based on checks and balances, not trust.  Timberlane and Hampstead school board officials may look over the SAU budget, but nothing is better than the fear of voter disapproval to make them and the SAU turn a sharp pencil on the numbers.  Did anyone watch this year’s SAU board discussion of the SAU budget?  There was a commendable discussion about salary increases, and not a word about any other provision in the budget.

3) “The SAU budget goes before the public at a public hearing.  That’s when voters can have their say.”  It is true that the SAU does hold a public hearing on its budget. You may not know this because it is a sparsely attended hearing, for good reason:  there has not been an instance in living memory when the SAU responded to public feedback at a public hearing by changing the budget.  They are under no obligation to change the budget based on public feedback and they don’t.  The public hearing is why the Timberlane Budget Committee has no authority over the SAU budget even though it is included in Timberlane’s budget.

If removing the SAU budget from Timberlane’s budget won’t make any difference, then the SAU should not object to it at all.

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Filed under SAU 55 Issues, SAU petition

Take Back Your School Deliberative – or Else

On Saturday, Derry’s teachers union won a victory and the fiscally prudent decisions of elected school board officials were undermined.  The President of the Derry Education Association  proposed  an $800,000 budget increase at Derry’s school district Deliberative on Feb. 2.  The school board had cut this money from the district’s budget by reducing 14 positions which included 7.5 teaching positions, according to reporting in the New Hampshire Union Leader on Sunday. The amendment to the budget passed at Deliberative.

Let’s not kid ourselves. This has nothing to do with education and everything to do with jobs for teachers.

I wasn’t at this Deliberative nor do I have any insight into its dynamics that day, but I do know how easy it is in general to stack a Deliberative session to push through an agenda that benefits a narrow but politically active segment of the population.  It’s very simple.  Teachers who live in the district show up to Deliberative while parents and other taxpayers of the district conduct their usual busy Saturday errands.

In case you haven’t figured out the game yet, Derry’s default budget is MORE than the proposed 2013-2014 budget despite  13-14 being about 2% higher than last year’s budget. (Timberlane’s default budget is also higher than the proposed budget, as it has been for a number of years.)  Derry’s default budget is $81,927,550.  Its proposed budget is now $81,903,691. Derry taxpayers will not vote for  the default budget. Instead, they will suffer rule by unions.

The sad reality is that people get the government they deserve and the tax rate they can’t be bothered to control.  Timberlane’s Deliberative is at 7 p.m. this Thursday, February 7 at the Performing Arts Center in Plaistow. The auditorium will be mostly empty, as usual, except for those whose agenda might not suit you.

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Filed under Sandown Issues