Sunday, February 3, 2013

Deliberative Session this Tuesday, 2/5 7pm. Come Out and Vote!

Hi everybody.  Dean here.  It's been a while since I've posted, but it's time to jump back in.

Come to the Deliberative Session Tuesday -- It's Important to Vote

The district website has these important dates:
Each year, appropriating taxes for schools involves the public voting on two different days.  The first is the deliberative session, called "Annual School District Meeting - Session I" above.  It's the meeting where any citizen in the district can propose changing the amount of tax to be appropriated.   The proposals are immediately voted on and may be approved by a majority of registered voters present at the meeting.   The second day of voting comes on Election Day, March 12th, 2013.  On that day, the budget (as revised at the deliberative session) is approved or disapproved.   School board members are also voted on then -- this time two at-large school board members will be selected by the voters.

You, gentle reader, should attend the deliberative session this Tuesday.   It's an election day (really just an hour or two) in which very few people tend to show up.   It means that whoever does make the effort to show up, especially with a group, has tremendous power to make sweeping changes to our schools.

I think the proposed budget is fine just how it is, so I want you to come to the meeting and vote with me against any changes.

I don't know of anyone in the district who doesn't think taxes are too high.  We all support the efforts of the board and superintendent to cut expenses and raise non-tax revenue.    But drastic cuts to school funding, besides being awful for our kids and our future, hurt property values right away.   Most of your neighbors probably moved to Oyster River because of the schools.  So I supported the board when they declined to make further cuts, which they believe would lessen education.

I went to the district presentation on the budget, and the meeting at Lee Town Hall about it.   From those I didn't get the impression that there was a big groundswell of opposition to the budget.   Almost no one showed up to the Lee and Durham meetings.  I heard Madbury had a nice turnout and respectful meeting.   

If there's a plan out there for tax cutters to show up en masse at the deliberative session, they're being pretty stealthy about it.   Nonetheless, it will be our own fault if enough of us don't bother to attend the deliberative session to turn back any such showing.

Unlike most election days in New Hampshire, there is no same day registration at the deliberative session.  But if you're already a registered voter from Lee, Durham or Madbury, you are encouraged to attend the deliberative session this Tuesday, 7pm at the High School.    We need your vote.   

The Warrant Articles

The deliberative session only determines the amounts on the various warrant articles.  The warrant articles themselves have to be approved by the voters on election day, March 12th.  

Here's what the warrant articles approved by the school board look like.  Article 6, appropriating $38.8 million, is of course the focus:

Click to enlarge

The default budget (what we get if NO on Article 6 wins on March 12) is about $270,000 (0.6%) less than the budget proposed by the board.   You can't change the default budget at the deliberative session -- its calculated according to the law from parts of the previous year's budget updated to reflect contractual agreements in effect.   Even if the general fund was zeroed out at the deliberative session, the presumably large number of citizens who thought that having schools was a good idea could vote NO on article 6 in March so the default budget would be in effect next year.  But I'm hoping the budget remains unchanged at the deliberative session so we can all vote YES in March.

Why Support the School Board's Budget?

By asking you to vote NO on everything at the deliberative session, I'm asking for the warrant articles as approved by the school board to be left unchanged.  Then I will ask the voters on March 12th to vote YES on each of these articles.  I am asking you to support the school board's budget.

Why?  The short answer is that the administration and the school board made a valiant effort to produce a flat budget -- one that spends the same amount in FY2014 as in the current school year, FY2013.   They saved money through a retirement incentive, health care costs that will be lower than expected, and fuel savings due to a deftly accomplished overhaul of the high school HVAC and lighting.   Nonetheless the budget proposed is not flat.  It represents a 1.6% increase in spending over last year, and I believe an average of 4.6% increase in taxes.  

Why the increases?  First let's consider the 1.6%.  One point to note is inflation is running about 1.7% this year, so in real terms, this is indeed a flat budget.   About $400,000 of the increased expenses (over 1% of our budget) is the result of the state shifting retirement expenses to the district. Hopefully with the recent election that kind of cost shifting will wane, but this particular expense is probably here to stay.  The district is also spending heavily on capital expenses that are badly needed.   Though the temptation may be to try to put those off when money is tight, the board is acting responsibly here by carefully prioritizing so as to not let things go until there's a crisis and an even more expensive repair.  The members should be commended for this.

The difference between the spending increase (1.6%) and the tax increase (4.6%) is the result of reductions in non-tax revenue.   There was about a $200,000 (0.5%)  reduction in direct state aid to towns for schools.   We expect to lose another $200,000 (0.5%) in federal Title I grants, for which we no longer qualify.  And we had a fund balance (the amount of money left over at the end of the year) of over two million a few years ago that we've been gradually spending down, about $700,000 (1.8%) that didn't need to be new taxes this year.   That particular party has ended, thus the money needs to come from new taxes next year.   In fact, if we pass Article 5, we may start retaining our fund balance for a few years, which would probably add 0.5% to 1%  to taxes for a few years until we reach the 2.5% fund balance retention limit (about $1 million for us, I think). I'm sure I'll write more about that in a subsequent post.

Anyway, the board and administration did a heroic job of cutting, but were unable to cut fast enough to keep up with reduced government support.   The Tea Party madness has largely subsided, so I don't think we'll keep seeing such big cuts from the state and the federal governments in the near future.  It's worth noting the state's shifting of retirement funding to districts, part of the Tea Party program of cutting of state taxes, ends up raising taxes for most NH residents, as the burden gets shifted from state funds (which include taxes on tourists, etc.) to local property tax.

The board is considering increasing revenue in the future (mostly from more tuition students) and will continue to watch costs, while keeping the quality of education up.  I'm supporting them, and I urge you to as well.

School Board Election News

This past Friday was the deadline to file to run for the two at-large school board seats.  All the candidates will be listed on the ballot in a single multiple-choice question.  Everyone in the district may vote for two.   The top two vote-getters win three year terms.

Stephanie Adams was kind enough to send me the candidate list, which appeared in the Durham Friday Update:
  • Thomas Newkirk (Durham)
  • Carl Piedmont (Madbury)
  • Kenneth Rotner (Durham) 
Tom Newkirk won in a landslide last year, and served out the remainder of Ann Wright's term after she resigned last January.  He's done a great job.  ORCSDcleanslate, meaning me, supported Tom last time, and I again support Tom for his reelection to a full three-year term.   Kenny Rotner also has the full support of ORCSDcleanslate.    Kenny is a local M.D., and a frequent presence and commenter at board meetings.

I don't know anything about Mr. Piedmont.  I don't think I've ever met him at a board meeting.  I do want to wish him luck and thank him for running.  His candidacy makes the election a real race.   I look forward to learning what he has to offer in the weeks to come.

I wish to extend an open invitation to all the candidates:  Anything you send me (, I will post as-is here on  

Further Reading

For now the important take-away is: come to the deliberative session on Tuesday and support the board by voting NO on any proposed changes to the warrant articles.   If you want to study up, you might start here:

This is the budget presentation that Superintendent Morse and Business Administrator Caswell have been presenting this past month.

The Advisory Budget Committee's excellent report has lots of great detail, especially the graphs at the end.  My personal request to the committee is to extend some of the graphs more into the past, for additional historical perspective, but I do appreciate that that's a lot of work.

Mike McClurken's report on the district is full of information.   He recently started a website that has a link to his report.   Here's an older pdf version.

Here is the letter and information FORE posted on the deliberative session.

Here's the proposed budget off the district's website.

The district website budget information, and are good places to check for district budget news.

There's so much more to say, but this is probably more than you can take before the deliberative session on Tuesday.   See you there.

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