Budget Committee Starts Growing Facial Hair

Last night  the Timberlane Budget Committee  instructed the administration to return to the next meeting with a budget showing zero percent increase.  I wish I could have been in the room to smell the rush of testosterone.

Budcom had previously instructed the administration, by vote on April 10th, to deliver a flatline budget.  As though that had never happened, the administration presented a budget with a 2.75% increase.  And they released this budget 2 weeks later than last year. The administration did do one thing right however; they showed the budget committee the long-lost courtesy of releasing the budget online a week before the meeting. In previous years, they smacked it down on the desk at the start of each meeting without having given anyone the benefit of advance study.

Deliberation of the draft budget was cut short with many questions left unasked by Mr. Green. After the vote to require the submission of a flatline budget, no further deliberation on the budget occurred. Believe me, there were many questions to be asked.  Here are a few of my own:

  • Why have legal fees gone up 72% over what was expended in 2013?  If the district is going to say that is because of Right to Know requests, then you should be asking two questions:  why are you running to lawyer with RTK requests instead of simply answering the information demands?  What are you doing as an administration that is generating so many RTK requests?
  • Why is the budget  reflecting  a $12,000 increase in “Cleaning Services” when Mr. Hughes said two weeks ago at a Budget Committee meeting that the increase in rubbish removal is only $6,000?
  • Why was staffing not adjusted in this draft? (For example:  Driver’s Ed is a cancelled program yet the teacher’s salary of $80k is still in the budget.)
  • Why are 2014 expenditures still showing just $61 million? If that’s all you spent to the end of June 2014, why are you asking for $8 million more with fewer students?

Many Irregularities in Last Night’s Meeting

There were a lot of  machinations taking place behind the scenes of this meeting.

The first involved how this meeting was noticed. By long practice, all meetings are noticed by posting the agenda in two public places as well as by wide email broadcast and online posting.  Last night’s meeting should have had extra vigorous notice because it took place on a Tuesday instead of the normal Thursday night. The opposite occurred. No email broadcast was done and a physical  posting has not been confirmed. The agenda was not even emailed to members of the Budget Committee.

When Mr, Stokinger was asked about this irregularity with the agenda, he said that Budcom’s meeting schedule was publicly posted and that met the legal notice requirements.  He’s correct, (and the law needs to be changed) but you have to wonder why tacking a schedule to a bulletin board some time ago would satisfy the district’s own interest in telling people about important meetings.  I mean, don’t they care about telling people about their meeting agenda?

One of the nice things about having a blog is that I get to answer my own questions.  Here’s my speculation:  the irregularities served to keep others  from knowing the agenda for this meeting.  With luck, maybe one person in particular would have been kept in the dark until it was too late — Arthur Green.

On October 23, Mr. Green gave a devastating presentation to the Budget Committee on comparable school districts and their staffing numbers (How Much Is Enough rev Oct 19).  Compared to comparable districts, most with better academic outcomes, Mr. Green concludes that our district is overstaffed by 76 people without touching our special education program.  Mr. Collins, who is a member of the school board and not the budget committee, somehow managed to push his way onto last night’s agenda, without discussion or vote of the committee.  He was permitted to give a slide show aimed at refuting Arthur Green’s presentation.

Could it be that the unusual treatment of the agenda posting was done to give Mr. Collins the possibility of sideswiping Mr. Green with a surprise presentation?  Collin’s presentation was posted on the Budcom Sharepoint site on Friday, Nov. 21 in the afternoon .  Mr. Green discovered it when he checked the website on Saturday looking for the agenda.

I’m genuinely glad someone took the trouble to respond to Mr. Green’s argument.  I’m merely objecting to every single detail of the way it was done.

Even more concerning than the disturbing irregularities with the agenda  was the presence of  a quorum of the School Board at this meeting: Collins, Blair, Bealo, Sapia and Steenson. Collins spoke at the Budget Committee meeting as a member of the school board.  Blair spoke as liaison to the school board on Budcom. The others just listened. There is no doubt this was school board business being discussed in the presence of a quorum of the school board.  That is a meeting – an unnoticed meeting.  Not only was this school board meeting not noticed, no one told me about Mr. Collin’s presentation or the school board’s intention of being at the Budcom meeting to hear it.

These are the games the people running your school district play.  The Budget Committee seems to be entering adolescence. It is too bad the School Board is stuck in Fifth Grade.

In Other News

Late Friday, Nov. 21, I emailed the School Board Chair, Nancy Steenson to request an appointment at the SAU to review contracts and invoices. So far I have not received the courtesy of a reply, let alone an appointment.  All the information I am asking for is public and readily available at the SAU in physical files.  I ask for an appointment to give advance notice to the staff to collect the documentation.  If they need more advance notice than a full working day and a half, as they had in this request, then I would be happy to adjust my request and schedule to accommodate.

Request for contracts and invoice examination 

Donna Green <donnagre@gmail.com>

Nov 21 (5 days ago)

to nancypetunia, Arthur, Cathleen
Nancy:
I would like to review the following contracts at the SAU office:
Rubbish removal
Office supplies through WB Mason
All special education service providers
All contracts with SERESC
All contracts with NESDEC
Contract with the outside school nurse employment firm
At the same time I would like to review the invoices for the last two cycles. Monday or Tuesday before 2 pm would be fine.
Thank you,
Donna
UPDATE  Dec. 2, 2014:  Received at 6:08 pm 12/1/14
Hello Donna,

This office is in receipt of your request dated November 26th (received today) to view numerous contracts.  You provided a timeframe of before 2pm on Tuesday, December 2nd(tomorrow) in which to make them available for your review.

Unfortunately, many of the contracts you are requesting are maintained within other departments (special education, student services and facilities).  I am happy to request copies of these contracts on your behalf; however, it is not possible to collect them all before 2pm tomorrow.

I will check with those departments tomorrow for an estimated timeframe as to when these documents can be made available.  As far as NESDEC is concerned, I will need to research when Timberlane became an affiliate/member as this occurred many years ago and my first glance into the general file did not see any such contract.   The district pays annual dues; but does not sign an annual contract.

Regarding your request to view the invoices, the November 20th run is available immediately.  The previous run has already been filed.  Mr. Stokinger is happy to provide you with the same checklist information he provided to you in the past regarding runs that have already been filed with the option to pull invoices as needed.

Have a good evening,
Cathy

3 Comments

Filed under Budget 2015-2016, Budget Committee

3 responses to “Budget Committee Starts Growing Facial Hair

  1. “Driver’s Ed is a cancelled program yet the teacher’s salary of $80k is still in the budget”

    A perfect no-show job in the language of the hack-a-rama, Massachusetts. Probably with a mileage allowance, fuel, and a car on top of the nice 80 big ones in the mail.

    I’d dig deep into that infestation. Wear high boots.

    Was someone paid after it was cancelled? Was the intent to pay someone for a program that did nothing? Which brother-in-law has (or would have, if not for spoilers like the Greens) made out on this deal?

  2. Cathy

    Funny; my “general” budget cuts I will make motions for total (to date) $1,450,208.68. I could solve the SAU’s problem.
    That is without touching the bloated salaries and with that benefits and taxes at the tax payers expense. Nor the $85,375.00 the tax payer funds for the employees to belong to “groups”.

    $358,924.00 increase in building maintenance: 97% increase from last year
    $43,520.00 increase for site maintenance; 37% increase
    $256,658.00 increase for books info resource; the 3rd yr if a 1 time cost
    $55,810.80 and $27,475.99 increase for improvement of instruction; increase of 68% and. 36% respectively from 2013-2014
    $50,000.00 increase for electricity ($700,000.00) when as of 2013-2014, we haven’t exceeded $580,000.00

    Shall I continue??
    The SAU , the SB “AND” the BudCom needs to be held accountable.

    Happy Thanksgiving and be safe if traveling!

    Cathy Gorman

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