Voters at School District’s Deliberative Session Made No Changes

February 7, 2014
by Lynne Ober

With 308 registered voters in attendance at the school district deliberative session, both parking and seating were at a premium.  Fortunately, additional seating was quickly provided.  Much of the morning was quiet with little deliberation.  Two motions to amend were made, but overturned.  Three warrant articles caused discussion about data accuracy.  In the end, all the warrants passed to the March ballot as presented.

After a school board member spoke to Warrant Article Four, the contract for part-time paraprofessionals and food service workers, Hudson resident Chris Landry stood at the microphone and asked why the data given was not the same as the data printed in the warrant article.  Landry said that even if you added the numbers, there was a data discrepancy.  This was the one of three data discrepancies discussed at the meeting.  Superintendent Bryan Lane took the microphone and said that the data printed in the warrant article was correct; apologized that the school board member gave erroneous data, but did not explain why the school board member had given erroneous data; or what the correct financial explanation was.  This warrant proposes to raise $60,469 in tax dollars.  School Board Chairman Laura Bisson had previously said that food service was funded via federal dollars and it was not clear if the raises for this group were also funded via federal dollars and that is what caused the data confusion.

Later, Shawn Jasper made a motion to amend Warrant Article Seven, which would add $50,000 from fund balance at the end of the year to the Special Education Trust Fund.  Jasper wanted to add a statement that the $50,000 would only be added if the “budgeted surplus of $461,091 was met and used to offset the tax rate.”  When Jasper spoke to his amendment, he said that his amendment would ensure that school board promises given at the January public hearing were kept and that $461,091 of expected surplus would be returned to offset the tax rate which he understood was a school board promise.  Jasper said that if this was not done, that the expected tax rate increase would be 88 cents per thousand and not the 70 cents per thousand the school board had announced.

When Lane spoke after Jasper, he said, “I do not understand.  You lost me.”  He asked for Jasper to elaborate and respond to his question, which was, “Where is the budgeted surplus?”

Jasper said that data given at the public hearing in the school district handouts available at the public hearing was different than what was being given out at the deliberative session and that the school district projected a budget surplus of $461,091.

Landry again spoke and said that while he did not disagree with the figure, he did disagree in how the figure was used and said he thought at the public hearing the figure was a revenue offset.  Landry and Jasper both appeared to have the public hearing documents with them.

Lane spoke again and said the previous budget had a budget surplus but no surplus was ever budgeted.  He said a surplus happens when money is not spent.

Next, School District Business Administrator Karen Burnell said that in 2013 the school district had returned $461,091 in surplus as a tax offset.

However, there seemed to continue to be confusion so Town Moderator Paul Inderbitzen asked Budget Committee Chairman Jon Maltz if he could speak and clarify the situation for the audience.

Maltz rose and directed the audience to page 22 in the deliberative session handout.  On that page, a 2014 report, which was signed and authorized by the school board, had a line called “Fund Balance to Reduce Taxes” and next to that line was $461,091, which Jasper had called the budgeted surplus.  Since the line seemed to indicate a future action and not a past action, there was still confusion.

However, an audience member jumped to the microphone and moved to cut off debate.  This motion passed so there was no opportunity to clear up the confusion about the data and the 2014 report presented to the public by the school district.

Following the vote to call the question, Jasper’s motion was also quickly defeated and the warrant passed to the ballot as written.

Warrant Article One, which covers the operating budget, caused the other data confusion.  This article asks voters to approve an operating budget in the amount of $48,044,494.  Budget Committee Chairman Jon Maltz spoke to the budget and said that the school district had budgeted more money in the benefits line than was needed so the budget committee had reduced that line during its deliberations.  He also said that 75 percent of the budget was comprised of salary and benefit numbers and could not be reduced.  Maltz said three new computer labs and half a wireless network for Hudson Memorial School were included, as well as other projects in the operating budget.

When School Board Chairman Laura Bisson spoke, she talked about an operating budget that was 2 to 3 million dollars less than the warrant article.  However, when she was asked about this discrepancy, she clarified that she spoke to the amount that would be raised by taxes and that the other amount came from federal funds with no tax impact.  She said the amount printed in the warrant article was correct and included both federal and taxpayer raised amounts.

Bisson said that the special education budget had been increased by more than half a million dollars, but that the salary line had been reduced by more than $200,000.  Later, Lane said that one Alvirne High School social studies teacher had been reduced because Alvirne will have approximately 60 fewer students next year and that the English language learning (ELL) teaching program for students who speak a language other than English as their first language had been restructured because the district currently has 35 ELL students which is down from 112 students.  School supplies have been budgeted at $40 per student and that the other line, which includes transportation, had increased.  She also noted the district is paying down its bonds so that line also decreased.

Although a large motion to reduce the operating budget was made by Hudson resident Peggy Huard, the question was quickly called on her motion.  Huard was allowed to speak to her motion despite several point of order objections by other audience members that the town moderator had to handle.  Huard wanted to reduce the budget by $980,360 and had prepared detailed slides showing where the reductions would come from.  A line formed to speak on the motion.  However, Hudson resident Shawn Murray, who was in line with others standing behind him to speak, said he wanted to call the question on the motion.  When the town moderator ruled, he would not accept a motion to call the question because residents were in line to speak on the motion and said this had been normal practice at previous deliberative sessions.  There was a motion shouted from the floor to overturn the ruling of the moderator and that motion was quickly seconded.  Inderbitzen carefully explained how to vote and what a “yes” vote and a “no” vote on the motion to overturn the ruling of the moderator meant and then there was a vote and the motion passed.  The next vote was on calling the question and that motion also passed.  Next, Huard’s motion was quickly defeated.

There was little to no discussion on the rest of the articles.  Warrant Article Two, the teacher contract, was discussed briefly.  After Town Moderator Inderbitzen explained that this warrant, by state law could not be changed, people took the opportunity to step to the microphone to publicly express their thanks for teaching staff.  This will be a two year contract for teachers and full-time paraprofessionals.  Step raises are provided in each year of the contract for all who qualify.  If a teacher is at the top step, a lump sum payment of $1,000 will be made each of the years that the contract is in effect.  For full-time paraprofessionals at the top step, the amount will be $500 in each year of the contract.  Although the printed material said each member would pay a higher percentage of their health costs, no one told the audience how much that had increased and copies of the contracts were not made available by the school district.

School board member Lee Lavoie, who is not seeking re-election, got the chuckle of the day when he rose to speak to Warrant Article Eight, installing an ADA compliant elevator at Alvirne High School.  He said that school board member Patty Langlois wanted to speak to this warrant article because it was fun.  “Fun?  He asked quizzically.  Elevators go up and they go down.”  The audience chuckled along with him.  The warrant will use $300,000 in a trust fund to install a better and much needed elevator at Alvirne High School.

All of the warrant articles passed through the deliberative session as written and will appear on the March 11 ballot.  The polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.