Tension was felt at last week’s School Board budget meeting when discussions about the difference between the proposed budget versus the default budget came up. The Budget Committee members that were present asked why two budgets being discussed in the first place. To make matters more complicated, there is over half a million dollar difference between the two.
Vice Chair of the Budget Committee, Greg Warner, asked why two budgets exist. Business Manager Peter Curro explained that having two budgets ensures that the town votes to fund the school system one way or another. By offering two choices, it allows the district to finance its most important needs in case it doesn’t get all the money it wants. The budget amount from the previous year is used to create the “default budget” for the upcoming fiscal year.
Budget Committee Chairman Tim Seikmann said the default budget is specifically “last year’s budget plus and or minus any contractual agreements.” For example, if staff in the district retire or get hired, those contracts would affect the baseline of the default budget.
“The town has to have a default budget,” said Seikmann. He echoed Curro explanation, saying it’s like a safety net to ensure that the district can keep running.
The board offers its own budget, which includes the needs and wants of the district. This year, its proposed General Operating Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is $73,473,218. This includes salaries for 746 employees (376 teachers, 36 health professionals, 241 support staff, 44 custodians, 15 technicians and specials and 34 administrators) to help care for and educate the over 4300 students currently enrolled in the Londonderry school system. It also covers supplies for the schools like desks, chairs, tables, athletic equipment and replacing outdated or broken technology like projectors and smartboards.
When the budgets go up for a vote, the town will have to decide whether to support the board’s budget or the default budget. In the past, the board has been able to keep its budget close to the same amount as the default budget. This year, though, the school board is asking for almost $570,000 more. Board member Steve Young said voters “will be presented with a number for the first time in 15 years” that is higher than the default budget. However, he noted that “the board budget is an exact replica of the Superintendent’s budget.”
Superintendent Scott Laliberte defended his proposed budget amount. “What I brought forward was a budget I felt was necessary for us to solve the problems of the district and also maintain all of our current programs.”
Laliberte explained that “we’ve been able to keep things moderate and keep things down about the default because we’ve had some teacher turn over, we have had some fund balance. We’ve had some good fortune in that department.”
Young explained to the board that an issue with having one budget be so much larger than the other is the number alone can sway voters. “The problem is if people don’t want to go to the default budget, the voters may in fact put you at the default budget.”
Labilerte later remarked that, “if I’m forced to do with less, then I’ll find a way to do it.”
Young asked Curro how leasing a new district office building by at least one $1 million changed the default budget. “How much did that affect the default number, by how much money?”
Curro responded that it hasn’t changed yet, but it could lead to an increase in spending by $165,000 a year for the next 10 years.
Seikmann asked if the board anticipated the lease being approved. Curro said be believed it would, but “can I guarantee you? No.” However, he also said the attorneys have exchanged drafts of the lease.
Seikmann expressed his concern that the townspeople would automatically vote for the smaller amount once in the ballot box.
Curro asked the room if it felt “the voters recognize the work of the school board” or vote for the default.
Laliberte said “we’ve got to get the message out to the public that now for the third or fourth year in a row, if you look at elementary enrollment it’s coming back up… we’re trying to get ready to be able to grow.”
Laliberte said he wants to use this opportunity to ensure there is enough money in the budget to cover any possible costs that the increase in enrollment could have on the district.
“The time to adjust to some of this growth is no after it happens, it’s right now,” said Laliberte.