Last night’s SAU meeting saw the introduction of the SAU’s proposed budget for 2015/16. The total budget is up 6% over the current year’s budget. Part of the increase is a “merit pool” for SAU employees to the tune of …. hold on to your hats… 5.6%! This means that each and every SAU employee could get a 5.6%** raise from the money budgeted for the merit pool. That’s enough merit to become beatified. [DG: This information is now outdated…. see the clarification below.]
The reasoning for a such a large “pool,” of course, is to make up for the default budget of this current year. SAU employees are used to getting a 3% salary increase annually so naturally if they missed an increase this year then it has to be made up next year.
Here is yet another example of the administration sticking their fingers firmly in their ears while taxpayers shout as loud as they can. In the March elections, voters widely rejected both the district and the SAU budgets, holding both to the spending of the previous budget year. But the school board and the administration did not notice the protesters waving signs. Instead, they want to spin the message by hiring a PR specialist out of Timberlane’s default budget. They also managed to roll out full-time kindergarten on a default budget. Sure, parents paid privately for full-time kindergarten, but the money to fund the program came from within the appropriated funds — not actually from the tuition — which gives you some indication of how much money is sloshing around in the district’s budget. Perhaps if they are delivered another default budget, they could build a new high school.
That hyperbole holds a kernel of truth. If the school district is given a default budget, they will actually have a lot more money than they actually need because student population is falling so rapidly that keeping a level budget should result in an automatic surplus – if the district were sizing their labor force to their customer base. What the district needs is not a default budget, but a significantly lower budget to reflect the fact that Timberlane has lost 1000 students in 7 years – the equivalent of losing an entire town’s student population.
Merit Leads to Secrecy
There’s another problem with the merit pool apart from its size. Since implementing merit pay increases, the SAU has refused to disclose the individual salaries of its employees in its budget materials. I requested individual salary information at last night’s meeting and then argued for it without success. If individual salaries are disclosed, the superintendent argued, then everyone could see who was or wasn’t getting merit raises which would be a sensitive personnel matter. Unfortunately, the SAU board is happy to allow this public information to stay hidden from their own eyes. Dr. Metzler determines the pay of his employees, reasoned Mr. Bealo. The SAU board doesn’t, so we don’t need the information.
Well, if we restrict the merit pool to an actual pool and not a great lake, then we do, in practice, determine the salaries – and board members should certainly know what SAU staff are making, and so should the public.
Health Insurance Featherbedding Again
Even though the SAU’s current budget is a default budget, it still included a whopping increase in health insurance costs which the administration argued were contractually obligated. You may recall the fuss I made about budgeting for every single SAU employee taking district insurance. I knew then it was a way to stuff some spare cash into the budget. It turns out that three SAU employees didn’t take the insurance so we should expect a hefty surplus from this line when the current budget year ends. Yet the SAU is still asking for a 6% increase. Hmm….
The laughable excuse they used in the last budget cycle was that they had to budget for every employee taking the insurance because their budget was now separated from Timberlane’s budget. It made no sense then and the false argument is now shamelessly exposed. In the forthcoming budget year, the SAU budget and the school districts’ budgets will be joined together once again. Nevertheless, the SAU is STILL budgeting for all employees to take the insurance. So you see, it was featherbedding all along and had nothing whatsoever to do with the separation of the budgets. As for contractual obligations, budgeting for one extra subscriber is prudent. Budgeting for three is not meritorious.
Let us hope that the SAU board restrains this budget. There will be one more meeting before this budget goes to public hearing. Perhaps there will be some saintly intervention.
** CLARIFICATION: The 2015-2016 budget does indeed have a 5.6% merit pool. After a great deal of effort at the Oct. 22 SAU meeting, Mr. Stokinger finally got me to understand that this merit pool represents two year’s of merit increases and not just one. Unlike standard accounting practice, the district has decided not to provide the actual SAU salaries in the budget information they provide. Instead, they provide old salaries and just keep adding merit increases to a pool as the years roll along which will make it harder and harder to figure out the actual merit pool in future years – not to mention the actual salaries. This, the SAU argues, is to protect the confidentiality of the merit increases. I say the pay and raises of all public employees is public information and bookkeeping that hides this information is not just confusing, it is an affront to taxpayers.
Oct. 22 : Budget work session SAU Building 7 pm
November 12: Public Hearing on SAU Budget SAU Building 7 pm