Guest Contribution by Arthur Green
Timberlane’s default budget is a shakedown of the taxpayer to ensure that the proposed budget passes.
By law, the default budget is the same as the current year budget, with addition of contractually committed changes (such as raises in collective agreements) and removal of one-time expenses from the current year.
Instead of following the law, the School Board approved an inflated default budget that is by my estimation $1.8 million higher than it should be if it were honest.
Donna Green and I have undertaken personal expense, as well as the risk of being saddled with TRSD legal bills, to require the district to be transparent about how the default budget was constructed. We are asking for a line by line default budget. All that has been released is a high-level summary sheet. We still hope for a decision in advance of deliberative, but I need to make the case in public as best I can with the information currently available. If I am wrong, let the school district provide the proof by disclosing the information we have asked for through the courts.
Example 1: Salaries
The first line in the TRSD default budget summary reads:
1100-2490 Bargaining Unit Salaries, etc. $744,324
The budget contains 69 lines which are salaries. It happens that if you add up the salary lines (excluding custodial) from the proposed budget (draft 2, 3 or 4) and subtract the current budget for those same lines, the difference is $744,324. So the starting point for the TRSD default budget is 69 lines from the proposed budget – not the current budget as required by law.
This matters because the default budget includes about $100,000 for raises in the administrative and clerical salary lines which are not, to the best of my knowledge, included in the TTA or TSSU collective agreements. I have removed those increases from my “Responsible Choice” default budget, and I would be happy to reinstate them if it can be shown that they are a contractual obligation.
Example 2: Special Ed Program
The third line in the TRSD default budget summary reads:
1200 Special Education Services $207,355
The Special Ed section of the proposed operating budget has 17 line items excluding salaries (covered above). The sum of these lines in the proposed budget minus the same lines in the current year budget comes to a difference of $207,355. In other words, the district’s “Default Budget” is simply the “Proposed Budget”. This pattern repeats in many other areas of the budget.
By the way, for those eagerly seeking an excuse to slander the Greens as being opposed to Special Ed, please take a deep breath. The amount for Special Ed in the “Responsible Choice” Default Budget is slightly higher than the TRSD budget.
Example 3: Euphemism Services
The 9th line in the default budget summary reads:
231x District Meeting & Other School Bd Services $11,000
In this category, there are only 4 non-salary lines which differ between the current year budget and the proposed 2017/18 budget:
- School board conferences: up by $2,300
- Miscellaneous expense: up by $5,000
- Dues and Fees: up by $1,000
- Legal Services: up by $10,000
So in the proposed budget, this category was up by $18,300. But in the default budget, it is up by $11,000. Why is the default budget up at all in these non-contractual lines? I am going to take a wild guess that the administration wants another $10,000 in its legal budget even under default. Note the irony of illegally raising the legal line in the default budget. And then let’s throw in the dues and fees for a thousand.
There is nothing in District Meeting & Other School Bd Services which remotely satisfies the legal requirement to be included in a default budget as far as I can see.
This example should also demonstrate why the administration owes the public a line-item accounting of the default budget. By trying to infer where the changes lie, I open myself to accusations that I have failed to understand how the budget is constructed, that I have misinformed the public, and that I have made unfounded accusations that the district failed to follow the law. Perhaps the district will respond with iron-clad contract commitments to spend $5,000 more on miscellaneous expenses and $2,300 more on school board conferences.
What are my cuts?
There is about $122,000 in salary which is identified as “additional” positions in the budgetary salary information which we received using Right to Know law, and which the Budget Committee was never given.
- additional Grade 5 teacher (full time)
- additional teacher – Interventionist (regular program) (full time)
- additional 0.4 Latin teacher
- athletic security monitor (part time)
- boys varsity assistant soccer coach (stipend)
- girls varsity assistant soccer coach (stipend)
These additions, along with associated FICA and retirement amounting to $27,000, have been removed from my Responsible Choice default budget.
Total salary reduction: $150,000
2. Capital Improvements to sites and buildings
We all know the difference between fixing a faucet and renovating a bathroom. The current budget includes $441,000 for maintenance and repairs, and $1.3 million for capital improvements to extend the life or enhance the use of sites and buildings. The 2016/17 budget for site and facility improvements included projects such as
- metal roofing for a kindergarten addition at Atkinson
- science room cabinets at TRHS
- replacement of the gym roof at TRMS
- replacement of all the ceiling lights at the PAC
- resurface the parking lot at TRMS
These capital projects are clearly one-time improvements, and do not belong in a default budget. The administration was able to determine that one particular project, improvement of the Sandown North Phys Ed field, could be removed from their default budget ($125,000). I can see no rationale to remove that item while retaining appropriation for the other one-time projects in the 4200 and 4600 budget lines.
Total Capital Improvement reduction: $1,175,000
3. New Equipment and New Computer Equipment
The current year budget for new computer and other equipment is $243,000. These budget lines are counted as capital purchases, meaning that the equipment has a lifespan of multiple years. There is a separate budget allocation for replacement equipment, which is $609,000. Although replacement equipment is also accounted for as capital purchases, I have retained replacement equipment in the “Responsible Choice” default budget, because it is logical that the district cannot operate properly if it is not funded to replace desks, copiers and computers that are no longer dependable.
Total New Equipment Reduction: $243,000
4. Replacement Equipment and Replacement Computer Equipment
There are specific items in the Replacement Equipment lines which were identified to Budget Committee during the prior year budget cycle as being exception items which could not be absorbed in the customary replacement budget. I’ve previously itemized those items.
After removal of these one-time expenditures, the “Responsible Choice” default budget still funds $546,000 for routine replacement.
Total replacement Capital Equipment Reduction: $63,000
5. Software Acquisition and Implementation
The current year appropriation includes a major upgrade to the district’s Infinite Visions business management software package. Installation services were budgeted at $38,000, which has been removed from the “Responsible Choice” default budget. For some reason, the TRSD default budget retains $5,078, although there has been nothing in the budget for IT professional services for at least as far back as 2010. Software acquisition added $38,000 to the current year budget. The district wishes to retain this amount in the budget, although the recurring annual fee for the software (obtained using Right to Know) is $13,000 less than the initial license fee.
Total Software Reduction: $18,000
6. Legal Budget
The legal budget for the current year was increased by $10,000 over historical levels to enable the district to aggressively obstruct transparency on issues such as the current debate over the default budget. This exceptional condition should not be bolstered by additional funding to be used against citizen and taxpayer interests. The legal line should return to its historic level ($70,000). In contrast, the district wants to add $10,000 to the legal line in the default budget.
Total legal Services Reduction: $20,000
The Responsible Choice default budget includes 34 budget lines which exceed the TRSD proposed budget for a total amount of $604,000. This money would be available through transfer of appropriation to mitigate shortfalls in other parts of the budget.
There are 240 line items in the TRSD budget. My analysis is that 156 of those lines in the TRSD default budget, comprising 89.6% of the the expenditures of the district, are the same as the proposed budget. Some of this draws on educated guesses, because the district is fighting with taxpayer funds to prevent line item scrutiny of the default budget, but we know enough to know it is grossly inflated.
Timberlane voters are entitled to a default budget of $69,714,514. This is $1.6 million less than the budget proposed by the school district, and $1.8 million less than the shakedown default budget voted by the School Board.
- The current year budget as adjusted by the school district for warrant articles passed in March 2016 ($70,194,988)
- The TRSD Default budget for 2017/18 as I have inferred it from the summarized information presented to the school board in lieu of a proper line-item detail ($71,559,032)
- My “Responsible Choice” default budget ($69,714,514)
- The TRSD proposed budget as it will be presented to Deliberative, including the Draft 5 changes made in response to the Budget Committee meeting on January 12 following Public Hearing ($71,328,093)