NOTE: Jan, 24, 2014: The figures in this posting are now outdated though the issues and urgency has not changed. Please refer to more recent postings. (DG)
In a district with plummeting enrollment, the Timberlane Budget Committee last night saw fit to give the school district a 4% budget increase – and they violated a rule of order in their rush to do so. I’ll get to that point later. First the impact on our pockets.
Property owners in the district as a whole will have to come up with an estimated 5.7% more in school taxes than they did this current year if this budget passes the voters. Each town will have its own number. Sandown will likely once again be the hardest hit with an estimated increase of 8.5%. That’s already on top of the 9.5% increase Sandown residents had to shoulder this year. Remember this is the percentage increase in the school tax which is the lion’s share of our tax bills.
But don’t think this is all. The pain has not ended. There are still warrant articles up for vote, the cost of which will impact the money the giant maw of our school district will extract directly from your wallet and indirectly from your property values. Timberlane has a new union for 167 support staff whose collective agreement will go on warrant this year. Another warrant for around $340,000 to renovate the kitchen in Sandown Central, if approved, will come from the capital reserve fund, which nominally has no tax impact, but of course that money eventually needs to be replaced in the fund. Other warrant articles have not yet been announced.
Part of my estimated figures above depend on estimates of revenue to the district, which is of course a factor in exactly how much money is required from taxpayers. Despite its importance, discussion of revenue did not happen until after the budget was precipitously approved by a stunning rules of order infraction. Debate on the budget was abruptly cut short by long-time chairperson Michelle O’Neil, now vice chair, shot out to move the question* and the chairman quickly called for a vote ON THE BUDGET while my mouth literally hung open in sheer astonishment. The correct procedure is to hold a vote on the request to call the question. A two-thirds majority vote is required to end discussion and Ms. O’Neil, if any one, would know this. Merry Christmas Timberlane! We love you! Here’s a jolly $2.5 million dollar bonus over last year’s stellar work, just because you asked! [*In a previous version, I said Mrs. O’Neil shouted out, “Call the Question!” That was my emotionally charged memory. Watching the Vimeo, which seems much different from the view from the table, I see that was not fair to Mrs. O’Neil and I apologize. She did not appear to raise her voice on the Vimeo and “moved the question” which means the same thing.]
The school district is going to advertise this budget as a 2% increase and just a 3.5% increase in local funding. When does spin become a lie? All these figures are BEFORE the SAU budget is taken into consideration, which must be done to be an accurate comparison to last year (when the SAU budget was included in the district budget) and to accurately represent the impact on taxpayers. Taking the SAU budget into account as one must, the numbers balloon to a 4% increase and a 5.7% increase in local funding. This could go up or down somewhat, but which way do you think most likely?
If you care about your money, if you care about the district, you should watch the Vimeo recording of this final budget meeting. http://vimeo.com/81838442 You will see Ms. O’Neil move to have me censured for what amounted to daring to talk to the Sandown Board of Selectman without a district official by my side. If you can get beyond that ridiculousness, and I hope you will, I bet you will be shocked to see that the committee, at this late date, still struggled with very basic information and fundamental understanding. We were never given a budget for the proposed full-time kindergarten with enough specificity to allow us to question it in detail – despite repeated requests. We did not know how much the teachers’ contract added to salaries. One member did not even understand the need to add the SAU budget into the calculations to fully grasp the scope of the increase that he himself moved to accept.
This is a budget we can’t afford. This is a budget without discipline and one not given anywhere near the scrutiny you deserve and should demand. The only hope is to rise in opposition to this budget at Deliberative on Feb. 6, 7 pm at the PAC at Timberlane High School in Plaistow. If you’re really angry, the budget committee holds a public hearing on the budget on Jan. 16 at the PAC, again at 7 p.m.
P.S. The school budget approved in 2013 gave the district a 2% increase. Sandown’s school taxes went up 9.5%. There is no proportional relationship between budget increases and local funding requirements so this year’s proposed 4% increase doesn’t necessarily mean a 19% increase in taxes… but Sandown can expect an increase in the range of 5% to 8.5% and possibly higher with warrant articles. Start programming your thermostat to an uncomfortable low right now. That will make it easier for you to leave home for Deliberative. FEBRUARY 6 7pm
P.P.S. If you want to see what got three members of the budget committee so tied in a knot, you can see my talk to the Sandown Board of Selectmen here:I’m proud of it. I said right off that the two members on the agenda were me and Ms. Gorman but she couldn’t make it. I also repeatedly and consistently said this was a proposed budget and that what I said was my opinion and not that of the board. I did not mislead my audience though I did mistakenly include one outdated slide which I corrected at the next selectman’s meeting. There were no grounds for censure whatsoever except the fury certain members of the committee had that I should have my own mind. The censure motion was malicious and nothing else except ridiculous.