July 17, 2019

Meeting Minutes for HSB Budget Discussion and Candidates Night February 22, 2016

DATE: 02-24-2016

Hartford Board of School Directors
Budget Discussion and Candidates Night
February 22, 2016 @ 7:00 pm
The HHS Auditorium

Board Members Present: Lori Dickerson, Paula Nulty, Peter Merrill, Russell North  

Administrators Present: Tom DeBalsi, Noel Bryant, Jim Vezina

  1. School Budget Presentation

  • Lori Dickerson presents the school budget, explaining that determining the budget this year has been more problematic than usual due to Act 46. There is a decrease in the total approved revenues from FY 16 ($36,062,585) for FY 17 ($35,847,564). The tax rate increase is 1.5% down from 3% increase initially proposed due to last minute legislative rule changes. The budget still contains a $1,114,000 decrease in expenditures from last year. With eleven staff members who plan to retire, the district will be examining which positions need to be filled and if there are already hired staff members who can fill those positions.

  • The fee for the four collaboratives in the school district fee has increased from $6,534,818 to $6,717,991. The collaborative programs receive students from out- of-district; if there are fewer Hartford students enrolled in the programs due to the decrease in student population, there is more room for tuition students from other districts.

  • The Federal and State Grant Revenue has decreased from $1,600,000 to $1,370,000. The HSD food service revenue has remained the same at $500,000.

  • There were many challenges in determining the budget this year. Act 46, which was designed to address the issue that educational costs were increasing as the number of students were decreasing, has presented challenges:

    • There are penalties of double taxation for portions of budgets over allowable caps.

    • The AOE’s interpretations of Act 46 did not match with Legislative intent.

    • There were state legislature changes after the Warrant deadline. The board had to make a decision on the budget before receiving all of the updated information from the legislature. Therefore, the budget remains the same, but the tax rate will be lower than is in the printed materials provided.

    • There is a decrease in the number of Hartford Equalized Pupils (down 54 equalized pupils).

  • There are many notable changes: The district needs a state mandated onsite athletic trainer for concussions ($50,000), health care premium costs are up 7.9%, and there has been a special educator reallocation from collaboratives ($50,000) that has been reabsorbed into the budget.

  • Lori Dickerson praises Jim Vezina for his work putting together the budget and providing the information to enable community members to follow how those numbers were derived.

  1. Public Comments and Questions

  • Ms. Brown wonders if the the eleven staff members who are leaving will be replaced. Lori Dickerson clarifies that there will be reorganization when possible.  

  • Mr.  Arnold asks why the board doesn’t present a 3% tax increase in order to keep teacher positions. Lori Dickerson clarifies that the board votes for a budget number, not a tax rate. Mr. Arnold points out that the student enrollment will continue to drop and is curious about plans for the future. Lori Dickerson acknowledges that the district is facing future challenges and that the budget, as well as tax rates, are  state driven; it is important to take guidance from the state and to follow the rules.

  • Mike Scelza states that the teachers are working without a contract; when a contract is settled, will the budget be affected?  Lori Dickerson recaps the different steps that have been taken by the school board and the HEA to try to reach a contract. Currently, the HEA and board have settled on March 29 for fact finding. She points out that teachers have still received paid sick, personal, and bereavement days. Those who were due step increases received them in the current year and the budget being presented also even with a million dollar cut to the budget.The board hopes to have movement forward and to reach a contract.

  • Mr. Sneddon acknowledges that education in Vermont is facing challenges and is curious how the school board is advocating for the district at the state level. Lori Dickerson shares that Kevin Christie is in the legislature on the education committee, and the district also submitted numbers to the state, showing what Act 46 would do the budget and to the district’s  programs.

  1. Candidates

  • Ms. Trombley speaks on behalf of Nancy Russell, who is ill. She is on the ballot for the two year term for the school board, but would like to be the write-on for the three year term.

  • Lori Dickerson shares that Kevin Christie has had surgery on his knee and could not attend tonight. He has been a school board member since 2007, would like to continue serving in that capacity, and would accept support.  

  • Russell North is running for the two year seat for the school board. He has lived in Hartford for 4 years and owns a business in Wilder business. As a parent with children in the district, he wants a quality education for all students. As an accountant, he sees the fiscal responsibility of the board to balance the needs of school with what the community can afford. As a member and then the chair of the school board in Ira, he helped discover a 20 year-long fraud and helped establish a “rainy day” fund. Being a school board member is a critically important role, especially now that there will be increased competition for students with the enrollment decrease. The perception of schools and the quality of education provided is very important and he believes that the board should strive to provide the best schools and achieve balance between community and school needs.  

  1. Questions for Candidates

  • A community member asks what candidates what would like to accomplish in their term. Russell North explains that he is interested in expanding efforts around outreach in regards to the district’s programs and also the consolidation process. He would like to project where the budget might be going forward to have a long-term perspective to find issues and positive aspects within the budget.

  • Mr. Arnold expresses that the code of conduct for the board limits the ability of those to express opinions that are contrary to the board’s decision to the public and wonders if this is a healthy way to manage things. Russell North replies that debate is healthy, but there is a point when a board has made a decision. There is a fine line members have to navigate in dealing with board situations and one can try within the system to make a change.

  • Mike Scelza wonders with the decline in population and many places in disrepair, how the district will entice students and families to the area. There are many repairs and updates that the school property and town needs. Tom DeBalsi replies that he is proud of how the current board has been managing facilities. Five years ago a firm assessed all of the district properties to determine what the needs were and how to best maintain the infrastructure. From that, he developed a 25 year maintenance plan that is revisited a couple times per year; the board even went on a tour to every school to look at the needs. With the Act 46 changes this year and wanting to be fiscally responsible, it was not a good time to have a bond for the pavement.

    • Russell North adds that he is aware of poor parking lot condition from personal use and knows the perception it causes. The board needs to balance needs and agrees that it was not the right time for a bond. On another note, he sees the need to  reach out to local realtors to discover how the district is perceived; then they can work on altering negative perceptions and promoting the perks, which parents need to hear about.

  • Mr. Flinn asks Lori Dickerson about the impact on the school budget on the offering of AP classes.  Lori Dickerson replies that the board can’t give an exact answer because the teachers who are planning to retire have until March 15 to rescind their request. Tom DeBalsi adds that he is going to be looking closely at  which areas that can be consolidated and will not make choices that will drive away students.

  • Mr. Flynn asks Russell North why it wouldn’t be a good idea for the town to vote down this budget since the legislature is talking about buying down state-wide school property taxes, using $20 million of the surplus in the education budget,

    • Russell North believes that is it risky to rely on specific legislative action. Lori Dickerson adds that it would be folly to vote down this budget and then propose to add money back in.

The meeting ended at 9:56 pm.

Draft Respectfully Submitted 2/24

Hannah Prescott