Last night’s school board meeting was a big relief. It could have been so much worse. The board voted to spend $160,000 on new lockers, electrical work and a new hot water system for the high school athletic locker rooms. The bidding policy was waived in order to get this money encumbered before the end of the month.
The board also voted to put into the Retention Fund any monies over and above the anticipated and budgeted $1.9 million surplus that may arise once all the open purchase orders are closed out and the dust settles on the end of year finances.
I was the only vote opposing all three of these decisions. Here’s why. The 2013-2014 budget was $2 million larger than the previous year’s budget. Not only did the district spend this additional $2 million, but it also spent another $1 million. Dr. Metzler continually harps on the nature of a bottom line budget, so why didn’t he address the athletic facilities during the past year that was so very generously funded considering our enrollment is shrinking like a dried up grape? Why didn’t the Facilities Committee highlight this as a top priority? No, instead the administration runs to the school board at the very last possible moment to sponge up surplus needed to reduce the tax burden with issues that have been outstanding for years and could have been addressed in the proper course of business. Something needs to be done with the locker rooms, that is obvious. A rushed, end-of-the year grab at surplus is not the way to do it.
At the meeting Dr. Metzler struck out at the budget committee, blaming them for removing $200,000 from the facilities budget so they had no money to do the locker room maintenance they so badly needed. Here’s the truth: the budget committee removed $225,000 from the facilities budget earmarked for a generator for the high school. Is Dr. Metzler saying that if we had given him money for a generator, he would have spent it on new lockers? If that’s the case, being a bottom line budget and all, why didn’t he spend any other money on these needed improvements?
As I’ve said before, our district is not short of money. Our problem is that we have no working capital improvement plan and some parts of our athletic facilities have been left behind.
Speaking of our surplus, which was mostly preserved at last night’s meeting, you should know that a windfall from a court-ordered return of premiums from the LGC HealthTrust to the tune of $855,000 is the reason we still have a $1.9 million surplus. (We have averaged a $1.9 million surplus for 4 previous years.)
By the way, RSA 31:95-b requires that unanticipated moneys, which the LGC refund was, shall be subject to “a prior public hearing on the action to be taken.” This means a public hearing should have been held to both accept this money and to eventually expend it. No public hearing was held . It has long been my contention that this money should have added to our historical surplus to give us a surplus around $2.7 million, instead it seems to have displaced the same amount of money previously in the projected surplus.
If I’m wrong, I’d like to see a public argument showing why. In a letter to the Tri-Town Times yesterday, Sandown resident Christopher True called for a special meeting of the school board to go over financial management issues raised by Mr. Green. I wish I would have read Mr. True’s letter before going to the meeting last night, because I would have supported his idea.
Accountability for the HealthTrust money is not just a legalistic issue. More money is coming. A payment was announced in January which has already been figured into Timberlane’s 2014-2015 budget, but HealthTrust announced on June 6th that they would be distributing $3.2 million more to members this summer. This will be more unanticipated money and if it is $5,000 or more, a public hearing is required by law. It would be a good opportunity to get some questions answered, but will the district do it?