No Changes Made at School Deliberative Session
February 5, 2016
by Lynne Ober
At the deliberative session the Hudson School Board submitted six warrant articles plus one other warrant article was petitioned, but none were changed.
In response to the superintendent’s email message to parents and staff urging them to get involved in the deliberative session, there was a standing-room-only crowd, which was great to witness. Unlike last year, people this year listened intently to the presentations and allowed others to speak.
As always Warrant Article 1 is the operating budget. The proposed operating budget of $50,530,617 is up $1,135,310 over the previous year’s budget which reflects an increase of 2.3 percent.
Much of that increase can be attributed to two main factors, a shrinking student population and increase in health care. Hudson’s pupil population continues to shrink, and much financial aid is based on a per pupil allocation, so with fewer pupils revenue is down $306,363. The board did not break down each instance of loss of revenue. The school district experienced a $790,864 increase in contracted health benefits.
As School Board Chairman Mike Truesdell explained other increases amounted to only $38,083 over last year’s budget, which is less than a 1 percent increase. This small amount of increase is seen when looking at the default budget, which is only $112,654 less than the operating budget. The default budget is $50,417,963.
The proposed operating budget will have an estimated tax rate impact of $14.13 per thousand.
Truesdell also discussed Hudson’s per pupil expenditures and showed how those were lower than surrounding school districts. One factor is the amount of projects funded by the Alvirne Trustees that do not require tax dollars and another factor is that Hudson pays its teachers less than surrounding districts. The school board is attempting to address that issue with Warrant Article 2 because Hudson has lost 50 teachers who are now teaching in other districts for more money.
However, the board never mentioned the positive impact on the tax rate that the Alvirne High School Trust plays. Governed by the Alvirne Trustees, this multi-million dollar endowment provides annual benefits to the high school that taxpayers have to pay in other communities with the result that the per pupil cost is down in Hudson. In order to compare Hudson expenditures to other school districts with no trust funds, one must add the amount paid by the trustees, calculate the tax rate that is saved and then with that added to the Hudson per pupil cost do the comparison, but the Hudson School Board did not provide that calculation.
Truesdell said the transportation contract was up ten percent and that the district had included monies to pay the fees for students who wish to take the AP (Advanced Placement) exams. He also briefly spoke about some new maintenance projects, ranging from new windows at Dr. H. O. Smith School, to classroom carpet and tile replacement. He told the voters that both the ongoing maintenance contract with Aramark and the transportation contract would expire this year and that the school board would begin working on those in February.
Eric Horton, representing the majority feeling of the audience, spoke in favor of the budget and urged people to vote for it so that children could have an excellent education. No one spoke against this warrant article.
Warrant Article 2 is for a five-year teachers’ contract. The salary schedule and steps were completely revised. Both school board member Stacy Milbouer and Superintendent Bryan Lane said there were benefit give backs that would result in savings, but neither described what those changes were. Lane said in the first year, the district expected to see a reduction in the cost of health care by $211,000, and that every year thereafter this annual savings would increase by approximately $15,000 to $20,000 per year.
When Shawn Jasper asked for the percentages of the raises given, Lane did explain that some teachers had not been appropriately placed on the salary school that that was being adjusted, but in general the raises were 3.1 percent in the first year; then 3.2 percent in years two, three and four; and 2.8 percent in the fifth year.
According to Lane, the thrust of this contract was to make the salaries being paid to teachers in Hudson more compatible with salaries being paid in nearby districts. The district hopes to retain its teachers. Lane did say that a number of retirements had also occurred resulting in hiring a number of new teachers, but again reminded the audience that 50 teachers had voluntarily left the district for better-paying teaching jobs.
In response to a question about the so-called Cadillac tax on benefits imposed by the Affordable Care Act, Lane said that in the fifth year if that tax was not repealed or further delayed that teachers on the family plan would pay up to $200 of the Cadillac Tax and the district would pay the remaining. Lane also said that at the current time, that tax would amount to approximately $100 but cautioned that it could change, go away or be further extended. “Because the contract is five years, we did have to account for it just in case.”
The first year this would have an impact of $ .11 per thousand on the tax rate with $281,768 being raised for salaries. Over the course of the five-year contract, taxpayers will be asked to fund an additional $2,338,153, according to the document provided by the school board. The breakdown for the other years in the contract, also presented by the school board, is as follows: $529,310 in the second year, $541,532 in the third year, $538,479 in the fourth year and $447,064 in the final year. Lane explained that it is not possible at this point to calculate the cost per thousand in any of the future years. This method of calculation is consistent with previous contracts and meets all state law requirements.
Audience members who spoke were in favor of increasing teacher salaries to a competitive level.
The budget committee did recommend this contract, but it was not unanimous. The vote was 7-2-1. Eric Horton asked the budget committee members who voted against the contract to explain why. Of the two members who voted against, only Joyce Goodwin chose to respond. Goodwin owns a preschool in Nashua and said that she could not support raises in the amount of 4 to 6 percent which some teachers would get with the restructured salary schedule when the CPI was only at 2 percent. She noted that she did vote for the leadership contract with a proposed 2.5 percent raise in each of the two years. Goodwin said she asked a Hudson teacher, who was dropping her child off at her daycare if the teacher could afford for Goodwin to raise her rates enough to pay her teachers another 4 percent in salary. According to Goodwin, the teacher said no.
The selectmen’s rep to the budget committee recused himself from the vote on the teachers’ contract because his wife is a teacher and he felt it was inappropriate for him to vote yes on a warrant article that put money into his family’s pocket. He reported that he had discussed this with other selectmen and they were ok with his abstention.
The leadership team in the district also has a two-year contract on the ballot and it is found in Warrant Article 3. This contract provides for a 2.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment in each of the two years and has a cost of $ .05 in the first year of the contract.
In order to plan for expensive maintenance and protect the district from unexpected equipment failures, the Hudson School District uses Capital Reserve Funds. Warrant Article 4 requests the approval to expend $150,000 from the Capital Reserve Building Renovation Fund to replace the leaky roof on the CTE Center at Alvirne High. This has no impact on the tax rate because this is money saved from earlier budgets. Lee Lavoie urged the district to replace the black rubber roof with a white rubber one because the white roofs not only last longer, but also keep the building cooler.
Two warrant articles, five and six, request permission to use June fund balance, if any, by placing monies into Capital Reserve Funds. Warrant Article 5 requests permission to place up to $100,000 in the Capital Reserve School Renovation Fund, and Warrant Article 6 requests up to $100,000 be placed in the Special Education Expendable Trust Fund.
Only Warrant Article 6 was attempted to be amended from the floor. Lisa Morrow, an English teacher and former special education teacher, moved to double the amount to $200,000. Lane spoke against this motion saying the board felt that having $400,000 available was sufficient and pointing out that by adding $100,000 the district would reach the $400,000 level. Fred Giuffrida pointed out that the budget committee would vote again on this if the amount was changed and might not approve the new amount. This amendment failed and the warrant moved to the ballot as presented.
The last warrant article was petitioned by Hudson residents after the school board decided not to bring it forward. Alvirne Principal Steve Beals said he was the first petitioner. This warrant article requests an appropriation of $494,458 to rip out and replace the track at Alvirne High School. According to Beals, the track is 22 years old and has been resurfaced a number of times, but cannot be resurfaced again. Although the track is open to joggers and walkers, Beals said that no home track meets could be held at Alvirne unless the track was replaced. Approximately 110 Alvirne students participate in track, and 90 Hudson Memorial students participate in the HMS track program, but neither team will be allowed to hold home track meets with the current track because it was not safe for competition.
School Board member Meagan Pollack said the board originally intended to bring this forth was a warrant article, but decided to remove it so that the two contracts would pass. She said that had been a difficult decision.
Athletic Director Karen Bonney said she was hopeful that the petitioned warrant article would pass so that Alvirne and HMS athletes would have a facility to use.
Audience members were in support of this article and commented that the track was a community track and not just a school track.
However, given the other warrant articles, the budget committee did not recommend the warrant article for the track.