Litchfield Budget Committee Completes School Budget Review

January 13, 2017

 

submitted by Cynthia Couture and Andrew Cutter

The Litchfield Budget Committee recently completed a final review of the school district budget and discussed warrant articles that have a budgetary impact.  The committee began reviewing the school budget in November and spent six weeks examining each account line and analyzing budget requests for each department and by individual schools.  District priorities were stated to be technology and increasing/restoring staff positions.  As enrollment continues to drop, salaries and benefits are becoming a bigger percentage of the budget and operational costs as a percent of total budget continue to decline.

At the end of this analysis, $172,060 in reductions had been made.  These were in areas of historical under spend, salary adjustment for the current superintendent continuing part time, savings for computers bought in bulk, a reduction in the purchase of an additional vehicle, unnecessary signage, and projects that can be delayed until the building assessment is complete.  This still resulted in a significant increase and a proposed budget that was $359,000 over the draft default budget.

For the final review, the committee analyzed the budget by account/object code that helps provide a more holistic picture across the various budget sections that have been reviewed over the past several weeks.  Below is a summary of actions taken:

A motion was made to reduce the salary and benefits line by ($300,000) as an attrition reduction.  Some committee members spoke in support of the operating budget with the desire to work toward an operating budget that can be passed at town meeting in March.  Justification for the motion was provided with several years of historical data for the committee to consider.  Over the past several years, salary and benefits has been under spent anywhere from $193K to $790K less than what was budgeted with the average under spend being approximately $500k.  With this information, the committee felt a $300k attrition reduction to the salary and benefits line was appropriate and the motion passed 7-1-0.

A motion was made to reduce the Conference/Workshop line by ($9,000).  As agreed to a several weeks ago, the committee decided to delay voting on this line as well as the travel line.  This motion provides level funding for conferences/workshops as existing in the current budget.  The motion passed 7-1-0.

A motion was made to reduce the Travel line by ($16,000).  With the same justification as the Conference/Workshops, the motion passed 7-1-0.

A motion was made to add $106,000 to the Special Education budget which is to support a new identified placement.

A discussion was held regarding previous motions made to reduce historical under spend in the Special Education Program and Special Education Transportation costs that failed.  Some committee members felt the Special Education budget has sufficient funding and can absorb the placement.  There was also a discussion on the proposed warrant article to add funding to a Special Education reserve account.  The motion failed by a tie vote of 4-4-0.  Total reductions at the end of this process were $549,110.

The committee was then presented with the school district warrant articles, which are summarized below:

Article 1 – Operating Budget

Summary:  Raise and appropriate $21,721,223 as an operating budget.  Should it be defeated, the default budget shall be $21,717,586.  This is $3,637 more than the default budget.

Voting:  The budget committee voted 4-3-1 to recommend the article.

Article 2 – Litchfield Education Association Contract

Summary:  A new two-year contract has recently been agreed to with the Litchfield Education Association.  The 2017-2018 estimate increase is $282,018 and the 2018-2019 estimated increase is $293,644.  As this was recently passed, the tax rate impact is still being calculated.

Voting:  As the budget committee has not yet seen the contract, this article was not voted on.  This vote will take place after the budget hearing on Jan. 12.

Article 3 – Placeholder Article, no further details at this time

Article 4 – Special Services Coordinator

Summary:  Raise and appropriate $92,885.21 as salary and benefits for a new special services coordinator position to support the special services director and Special Services Department.  Estimated tax rate impact $.10

Voting:  The budget committee voted 8-0-0 to recommend the warrant article.  This article is a top priority for the school district.

Article 5 – Security Equipment

Summary:  Raise and appropriate $61,645 to purchase security equipment and products to enhance the safety and security for the main entrances at Griffin Memorial School, Litchfield Middle School and Campbell High School as well as modular buildings at GMS and LMS.  This is at the recommendation of NH Department of Homeland Security.  Estimated tax rate impact $.07.

Voting:  The budget committee voted 8-0-0 to recommend the warrant article.

Article 6 – Special Education Capital Reserve Fund

Summary:  Raise and appropriate $100,000 to be added to the Special Education Capital Reserve Fund.  Amount to be funded through an unreserved fund balance transfer.  Estimated tax rate impact $0.00

Voting:  The budget committee voted 4-4-0 to not recommend the warrant article.  Some committee members felt that the Special Education operating budget has sufficient funding and can absorb newly identified placements therefore not providing justification to increase the current reserve fund in place which has a $104k balance as of June 30.

Article 7 – School District Building Maintenance Capital Reserve Fund

Summary:  Raise and appropriate $50,000 to be added to the Building Maintenance Capital Reserve Fund.  Amount to be funded through an unreserved fund balance transfer.  Estimated tax rate impact $0.00.

Voting:  The budget committee voted 7-1-0 to recommend the warrant article.  The current fund balance is $51K as of June 30.  The added funds through this article will provide sufficient reserves for large capital expenses in the event of a failure.

Article 8 – School District Technology Capital Reserve Fund

Summary:  Raise and appropriate $25,000 to be added to the Technology Capital Reserve Fund.  Amount to be funded through an unreserved fund balance transfer.  Estimated tax rate impact $0.00.

Voting:  The budget committee voted 1-7-0 to not recommend the warrant article.  The committee felt that the $50K current balance in the fund is a sufficient reserve amount in the event of a failure.

At press time, the next budget committee meeting was scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 12 after the budget hearing.  At that meeting all final votes were taken.  Please plan to attend the school deliberative session to be held on Feb. 4 at Campbell High School.  All are strongly encouraged to attend.