Saturday, February 8, 2014

Budget Unchanged in Pleasant Deliberative Session

In a strong show of support to the current board and administration, the warrant approved by the school board was left almost entirely unchanged by the voters at last night's deliberative session.  I'm happy to report that this year the approximately 110 voters present understood that the idea was to propose amendments.  About a half dozen amendments were proposed, and discussion was generally short and to the point.

The crew was there with a bunch of cameras so I'm sure pretty soon the meeting will be on YouTube/ORCSDvideo and probably on DCAT, too.

Moharimet Cafeteria Costs Explained

In the end, only David Taylor's "technical" amendment passed: Article 4 was changed to make clear the estimate for the Moharimet cafeteria rehab is $545,000, of which $500,000 is expected from the LCG fraud settlement.  It's unclear why the superintendent reduced the estimate from the $560,000 previously stated.  It's still unclear about what happens if Article 4 passes and Article 5 fails, leaving us $45,000 short of the estimated cafeteria cost.

Last September the initial, very round guess reluctantly offered by the superintendent was the district would retain $500,000 of the LGC settlement.  This was the estimate of the fraction of the $688,555 LGC settlement that did not have to go back to employees (who too overpaid in their past contributions to their health insurance).   It implies employees paid 27% of their own premium, which seems high, so we may have more money coming.  In any case, it's odd to me that the estimate of what has to be a pretty involved calculation of figuring out which current and past employees get a rebate has not been sharpened since last summer.

Ruth Sample proposed amending the explanation to make it clear that the outcome of the vote will have an effect on your taxes.  If the Moharimet Cafeteria was not built, the LGC refund will make it into the fund balance (the money the district could have but didn't spend) and reduce next year's taxes 1.4%.  But the moderator told Ruth it was not permissible to amend the explanations, only the articles, and that the explanations would not appear on the ballot in March.  This was a surprise to me.

Another amendment, which proposed that $545,000 be the maximum we could expend on the cafeteria project, failed.

All Other Amendments Failed

As predicted, district parent and former board member Ann Wright proposed adding back Wendy Gibson, the 0.4 FTE Spanish teacher.   This was the closest vote of the night.   After two tries counting, the moderator declared the amendment failed.

Parent Lindsay Raynes proposed about $52,000 to add SROs (police) to Moharimet and Mast Way.  This was resoundingly defeated by voters present.  The discussion against was divided between those who did not want police in elementary schools and those who thought the current effort was hasty and required more planning.

I predicted those amendments. In the not-predicted category:

Someone proposed adding back the high school "Building Paraprofessional" for, if I recall, $32,000.  Bad prep work -- the actual amount according to the budget presentation was $24,582.  The building para seems to have many jobs, including nurse's assistant.  Failed resoundingly.

Someone proposed adding a full day Kindergarten pilot program to Mast Way for $75,000, to commence this coming fall.   Failed resoundingly.

Shirley Thompson Remembered

There were touching moments as Shirley Thompson was remembered.  Shirley, Oyster River's long-time paragon of citizenship, passed away last Friday.  Coincidentally, Shirley is moderator Richard Laughton's mother-in-law.  On behalf of the family, Mr. Laughton warmly thanked the community for their affection and support.

Last year, Shirley counted votes at the deliberative session.   That turned out to a pretty demanding job.  Shirley was truly missed at last night's deliberative session.


All in all I find this a very strong show of support for the current board and administration.  All substantive changes to the board-approved warrant were rejected by the voters.

Although there were stark differences of opinions on the various proposals, the discussion always remained professional, respectful and pleasant.   Refreshingly, the divisiveness and rancor observed in the last two deliberative sessions was absent this time around.

Unlike last time, all three candidates for school board were present last night.  The three candidates running for the two at-large school board seats are:

Denise Day – Durham
Sarah Farwell – Lee
Michael Williams – Durham

Stayed tuned for more on the coming election soon.

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