|Summary of the complicated new plan to finance an ORHS track and field|
|New field plan|
- The voters authorize the sale of the Orchard Lane property
- The voters direct the proceeds from Orchard Lane to the field project
- The voters direct the insurance settlement money to the field project
- The voters approve the remainder of the field budget, either as a one time appropriation or a bond.
It's possible that some of these aren't needed or can be combined. Even if the voters approve all this, it's still possible that the land won't sell (or fetch the expected $295,000) or the insurance settlement comes in less than expected. Either way the field might not go forward.
As I stare at it now, it seems the worries about complexity are overblown. I'm not a lawyer but I think we can get away with two warrant articles, one that authorizes the sale of Orchard Lane and one that lays out the budget and financing plan and asks the voters to approve the plan and raise from taxes a few hundred thousand additional dollars to complete the financing.
|A plan distributed |
but not discussed
The plan has sources of financing that don't require warrant articles. One was a delay of planned capital improvements, freeing up funds for the field. This part seemed a bit hastily thrown together -- two weeks ago the amount was $600,000; at yesterday's meeting there was a plan handed out on the back table (that matched the one in the agenda) asking for $700,000 from this year's budget and $205,000 from next year's. Then during the meeting the superintendent handed out and discussed another plan asking for $350,000 this year and next "as an example".
Board member Rotner ominously talked about delaying the spending on the middle school: "I think it looks really smart not to be putting money into a building that maybe three five whatever years from now we're not going to be using anymore." What he seemed to be implying was us taxpayers had better get ready to pony up for a new middle school soon, I'd guess via a $30M to $50M bond. Superintendent Morse quickly changed the subject, presumably because news of such a big upcoming expenditure might sour the voters on the field. The cat's out of the bag now.
The school board and district leadership are still exploring field financing that requires a bond and thus a 60% YES vote. Some think that asking to bond a significantly smaller amount than last year's $1.7M will lead to passage. I personally think a bond virtually guarantees failure -- we've tried four times and failed to get 60% each time. I don't think there's reason to think a lower number on the bond will matter much -- most voters will understand that however it's financed the field will cost $2.3M that otherwise would not be spent, so taxes would ultimately be that much lower if the bond fails.
The alternative is a one-time appropriation requiring a simple majority. This is the solution that Board member Day favors. So do I. I suggested a $300,000 appropriation, which I'm predicting will have no trouble getting to 50% at the polls. A budget like that requires about $700,000 to come from delaying capital improvements, assuming all the other money comes through as planned.
I don't get Dr. Morse's objection to the non-bonding solution: "it stages the project over two summers or delays the project until the summer of 2017." To me the difference between a bonding and non-bonding solution is just the wording of the warrant article -- whether it says "bond" or just "raise and appropriate." There's no reason for an extra year delay if you don't bond. Staging is likely a bad idea as well -- they're looking into it.
There was a lot of discussion about the multiple warrant articles being too complex for the voters, lessening the chance of passage. There were also concerns about what happens if some of the articles pass and others fail, so we fail to reach full funding. I made a public comment suggesting the various warrant articles ask the voters for permission to move the funds to the Track Fund. That way if we fail to achieve full funding this March we bank the money and get the rest of the way next March.
The superintendent promised full transparency in the field financing. Member Rotner urged the public to come to the next school board meeting, Wednesday October 7, 7 pm at Moharimet, to air their opinions on the plan before a presumed vote.
There was one more odd thing that came up. It turns out that the board could spend this year's insurance settlement on the field even though the voters did not appropriate the money. Normally, even if the district gets extra revenue or finds a pile of cash in a closet, it still cannot spend more in a single year than the voters appropriated in March. But technically we don't actually receive the insurance settlement money -- it comes as a discount on insurance, so we're able to spend the money the voters appropriated for insurance on something else.
After some site visits in Cambridge, the field committee came to an agreement on the fill. You'll recall last year the community was divided over the use of tire crumb rubber as infill in the artificial turf. The most vociferous combatants were UNH Professor Kevin Gardner, for tire crumb, and Dr. Bob Barth, against. They were both on the fill subcommittee, and amazingly they came to agreement that EPDM, Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer, was the fill of choice for us. It was reported that the vote to recommend EPDM was unanimous in the eleven member committee.
|Athletic Director Parker showed this model of the|
turf and recommend fill at yesterday's meeting
While I'm griping about the slide, I'll descend into a spelling flame. "Affects" is a verb -- you want the noun "effects." And "its" not "it's". And a space before "degrees." Call me naive, but I expect better from educators.
By the way, 3 to 10 degrees seems pretty negligible compared to some of the temperatures thrown around last year. I remember people talking about 130 or 140 or even 170 degree fields when the surrounding temperatures were 80 or 90. Maybe in cold New Hampshire this heat effect is mostly desirable.
The board voted unanimously to accept the committee's recommendation.
In other news, ORCSD was given a "District of Distinction" award by District Administration magazine for the achievements of our Sustainability Committee. Chair Cristini Dolcino accepted the award on behalf of the committee with a statement. A plaque commemorating this national recognition will hang in the SAU office. The board also renewed the charge for the sustainability committee.
There was some controversy over the superintendent's plan to fill the Assistant Superintendent position from within the district. Dr. Morse's chief concern was with filling the position quickly, so there can be some transition overlap before Assistant Superintendent Eastman moves on at the end of October. Board member Farwell persuasively argued that as a top notch district we need to select the best candidate from a broad pool of applicants. Due to the unfortunate timing of Assistant Superintendent Eastman's departure, the best candidates have already committed themselves for the current school year. Board member Klein suggested hiring an interim AS. Eventually the pieces were merged and a plan formed: quickly promote a current staff member to Interim Assistant Superintendent while starting a search for a permanent AS who'll come on board next school year (in July). This seems obviously the best plan to me. It does have the downside that the interim person already has a job that will presumably need to be filled, also temporarily. What the superintendent will do is anyone's guess as no vote was taken.