School Budget Cause of Big Tax Increase in Sandown

If you live in Sandown and you are wondering why your taxes went up so dramatically this year, blame the school district.  My own property tax bill that arrived last week went up 11.4%.  A whooping 81% of that increase is due to the school district.

Timberlane got $2.2 million more  from district taxpayers this year than last.  That translated into a 13.9% increase in the school portion of my tax bill (and an overall increase in money from Sandown of 9.5%).  Wrap your coat tighter around you because you’re in for the same rough treatment next year if the current proposed school district budget is approved.  As the proposed budget stands now (and figuring on revenues as they were projected for 2013-2014),  the district is going to need an increase of around $3 million from district taxpayers! [Final revenue numbers not yet available so this is just a best guess estimate.]

I am just one vote on the ten-person Timebrlane School District Budget Committee. I and my fellow Sandown colleague  Cathleen Gorman, put forward a motion to eliminate approximately $900,000 from the (2014-2015) proposed budget.  It was soundly voted down 8 to 2.

Here are the items I moved to eliminate:

  • $17,020  TurnItIn software… budgeted for each middle and high school student to check for plagiarism in their essays  As an aside, I was an essay marker for first year college essays when I was in graduate school.  I can tell you unequivocally any teacher who troubles themselves to actually read an essay can spot plagiarism a mile away.  Neither students nor teachers need this.  And teachers certainly don’t need thousands of dollars in training when the training is offered for free with the software.
  • $41,800 for the Gates Foundation promulgated Tripod student survey about the learning environment, which is not used to evaluate teachers. This is a national data collection enterprise that we are being asked to pay for with no career consequences for teachers from the administration.
  • $100,000 from building maintenance as that budget has been markedly underspent for years.
  • $50,000 from Social Security, another line that has been habitually underspent
  • $41,000 from professional education services.  This is money to educate teachers, over  and above the many professional development opportunities they already enjoy.  This line has increased by $83,847 over what was spent for this purpose in the 2012-2013 year — an eye popping 147% increase!
  • $44,400 for iPads for the proposed Full Time Kindergarten
  • $140,000 for software
  • $3,000 to replace economics textbooks that don’t seem to exist in the first place [research pending]
  • $15,000 for Read 180 software.
  • $200,000 from Special Education as this department has been underspent by $300,00 or more for the last three years. [NB: The proposed Special Ed budget is up $1.1 million over what was spent in the 2011-2012 year. That is up more than 14% in three years WITH A DECLINING STUDENT POPULATION.]
  • “Special education suite” to interview families at the middle school
  • Unknown insurance benefits cost for FIVE new employees.  (Given that enrollment has decline 15% since its peak in 2007-2008 while the budget has gone up 15%, I don’t feel any new hires are justified, but in the interest of bringing my fellow members along, I allowed 5 new positions in this budget.)

TOTAL   652,220 + suite costs + insurance costs =  unknown amount, but I proposed a total cut of $900,000 some of which would come out of other vastly underexpended line items from the 2012-2013 year (the last year for which the budget committee has expended figures).  There’s also $45,000 for laptops for grades 4/5 which may or may not be an error in the budget description. The technology budget went up 44% since the 2012-2013 year.  If you’re OK with kindergarten kids having iPads and 4th graders having laptops, perhaps you don’t mind spending nearly $29,000 for kids to go on virtual tours of museums and other presumably educational destinations.  Welcome to 13.9% school tax increases as a way of life.

So far the budget committee has removed from this bloated budget just half a percent in salary increases for non-affiliated employees (from 3% to 2.5%) and a generator for the high school for $225,000. The administration on its own has reduced its ask by $701,158 since the first budget draft, $155,000 coming from Special Education which is a step in the right direction.  My figures here are all after these reductions. Dr. Metzler has undertaken to return with a final budget slimmed down by another $100,000.

If you find this discouraging, I urge you to follow my blog by clicking the “Follow ” button at the top left hand corner of this screen.  Also plan to attend the school district deliberative session on Feb. 6, 2014 at 7 p.m. at the PAC. Only taxpayers can put a lid on these budget increases, and please don’t depend on just voting for the default budget.  Although I haven’t yet seen it, the default will retain last year’s increases which I believe should also be rolled back significantly.

Readers note:  What the district collects from taxpayers is not the same as the budget increase from year to year.  Revenues received by the district affect the amount of money needed from taxpayers.  This means that a $2.9 million budget increase as currently proposed does not directly translate into a $2.9 million increase in taxes. It could be more or less depending on the district’s revenues. My projection has it being slightly more at $3.1 million, but actual revenue when it is known may change this.  Let’s hope for the better.

For a full breakdown of the 2014-2015 budget and historical trends, send me an email through this blog site. My attempt to save my .ods spreadsheet into an Excel file for publication here results in lots of deleted data.

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7 Comments

Filed under Budget 2014-2015, Budget Committee, Sandown Issues

7 responses to “School Budget Cause of Big Tax Increase in Sandown

  1. Crystal

    Hi Donna,

    Thank you for all your time and effort here. I have so many questions about how I could have missed a 30% increase in the town tax rate. Many of them you have answered in your blog.

    Is it all our own fault? Was there ever a bolded section on a ballot stating “vote yes for astronomical tax rate hike” ?? I don’t remember seeing it. When I bought my house in 2010, the tax rate was 20.xx and the assessment value was about $40,000 too high. Now 3 years later, my property tax has jumped nearly $1000 despite the revaluation bringing my assessment value down $40k!!! Unbelievable. If this is what I can expect from Sandown, I too will be leaving. Pinkerton district sounds better and better and better.

    I am truly concerned about the TRSD school budget, especially considering its reputation compared to that of neighboring towns’.

    You mentioned in another section that residents are not showing up to the meetings, and that it’s not because of laziness, but because they don’t feel they can change anything. I would like to add or challenge that there would be a lot of concerned and informed residents attending if the information about meetings and tax related issues was more accessible, or in English. All that would take is a few willing town volunteers, right? Or an extension of the responsibilities delegated to our elected officials? Yes, everyone should be going, but they’re not going to unless the issues are in their face, and the steps to resolution are laid before them. Facebook, flyers, more informative town website… totally doable avenues. If I am paying my town to work for me, I expect to be able to understand and change what they do and how they do it.

    As a relatively new first time homebuyer, parent, and resident of this town, I am very interested in making more sense of what we can do to change the town tax rate and the school/SAU budgets. Please email me with any thoughts / advice you might have.

    And thank you again for your transparency and passion — seems like this district definitely needs more of it.

  2. Brigitte

    Thank you for writing this blog. As a new tax-payer in Sandown I fully appreciate your transparency and commitment to keeping people informed. I see that the town of Sandown is looking to fill a seat on the school board due to a recent resignation.

  3. Chad

    I live in the newest development in town. I have no children and have no plans to have children. When my property was reassessed this year, I thought finally… my 9500 dollar tax bill will go down. When reevaluation happened my property value went down 100,00 dollars. My tax bill came and guess what my bill is now over 10,000 per year. I do not blame the schools completely. Yes, there are areas to cut, but there are things that shouldn’t be cut. I feel the town can also cut back. Does the town hall need all the employees that are there? You mention cutting teacher training, but with all this new federal mandates of common core, what service does that do to our children (Of which I have none). Yes, enrollment has dropped, and costs have gone up, but costs have gone up for all of us everywhere. Gas, electric, heat, food. We need to find a solution before our homes are unsellable.

    • Thank you for this comment. 73% of the proposed school budget is salaries and benefits. This is 100% sensitive to student enrollment. 27% is expenses much of which may not be sensitive to enrollment. You are right, the common core does require intensive teacher training, but the district was given a whole layer of administration last year, “Academic Deans,” who should be involved in this teacher training and evaluation. That was a very expensive investment and given the already generous amount of money invested in teacher “inservice,” I see no reason for this astronomical increase. As for the town, I find they run a pretty tight ship, though I disagree with annual nearly universal raises and a year-round rec director. Taxpayers have to be aware that additional items approved on the ballot are over and above the budget.

    • Crystal

      I agree, Chad. Sandown had some poor planning in the way the taxes hit this year. Clearly the revenue was down, and they needed to make up for it. I have spent some time this week looking over the town’s budget and have to agree with Donna, they do a pretty good job of budgeting what’s truly needed, and underspending where they can. I didn’t see anything alarming at all actually. But this town wide revaluation plus 30% rate hike was a terrible decision. My taxes would have been under $5k with the new (realistic) assessment in place. Now, it is over $6500. I sort of feel duped. As a single parent, that kind of shortage in my Escrow at the end of the month is going to be tough. When I moved to Sandown, I did not think I would be paying near Derry tax rates without the benefit of a truly impressive school system. Nevermind the fact that we don’t even get trash pickup! I have to pay $29/mo for it. wth!

      The school budgeting IS a nightmare. I am not nearly as involved or educated on it as Donna, but I have looked it over at least 10 times now and find the habitual increases in pay and benefits sickening considering the school’a lack of value compared to neighboring districts. Sandown is now allocating 18.37 per thousand to the local school. The other line items are $5.06 (municipal), $1.12 (county), and $2.53 (state school). So in terms of impact, the most effective way to spend our efforts is by reigning in the spending of the SAU. And maybe if we could figure out a way to increase Sandown’s revenue (without killing residential taxpayers).

      I really hope a better dialogue is starting within the district. We are paying the Superintendent 6 figures, he should be able to figure out how to increase the effectiveness of a TRSD education without needing line items like $40k for iPads for Kindergarteners. IMO luxuries like that should be donated, not budgeted.

  4. Elaine Tummino

    I have been a Sandown resident for over 17 years. My husband and I were considering building a new home in town. That idea has been scrapped since our taxes would be well over 10 thousand dollars. We may need to look outside of Sandown.

    • The school budget was just approved by a violation of rules of order and the increase is more than 3.7% which in my mind is unjustified. (To put it in perspective, last year’s increase was just 1.98% before warrant article which turned it into 3.2%) I was also censured by the budget committee for speaking to the Board of Selectmen to let people know what is happening. Fortunately the motion to censure me was defeated by one vote. I don’t blame you and it is a sad, sad, day for our town when good people have to leave rather than make improvements. Onto Deliberative to save our town!

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