SANDOWN – Most of the Timberlane Regional School District’s deliberative session last week was taken up with a motion to reduce the bottom line, and the rest of the meeting progressed swiftly.
All articles ultimately went to the ballot unchanged, but a few had notable discussions or information brought to light.
An article seeking approval for the School Administrative Unit (SAU) 55 budget at a total of $1,487,025, with $1,137,741 going toward operation of the Timberlane District (Sandown, Plaistow, Atkinson and Danville) and the remainder to run the Hampstead School District, with a default of $1,455,409, went through with relative ease, but a related article, petition article 9, led to a brief discussion.
Article 9 seeks to rescind an article passed last year that separated the SAU budget from the district budget, with proponents stating that it made for more transparency and gave voters a chance to amend the lines as they saw fit. But at the Feb. 6 Deliberative Session, school board chair Rob Collins explained that one of the reasons he wants to see that change go away is because of the restrictions it places on moving money around, something he said could help with the bottom line.
Collins said that when the two budgets are one, the school board can move money back and forth if needed to cover overages. Though rarely done, he argued that it made a difference in the SAU bottom line this year.
In the past the administration kept a slim margin of money over what health insurance plans the 13 SAU employees were expected to take, knowing that if the plans were expanded beyond the budget, they could move funds from the district budget. This year the administration had to increase that percentage safeguard, something Collins said may be needed with the changes coming from the Affordable Care Act.
The SAU budget shows a more than 10 percent increase.
The other article that saw some discussion was article 5, which seeks $385,412 to upgrade the kitchen at Sandown Central School, $335,412 coming from the capital reserve fund. The remaining $50,000 would come from the 2014-2015 operating budget.
The article resulted in a brief back and forth between Sandown budget committee member Donna Green and members of the school board.
Collins explained that several years ago, the district was alerted to deficiencies in the elementary school kitchens and had fixed them since through warrant article appropriations. Central’s is the last on the list.
School board member Michael Mascola of Atkinson said some of the upgrades needed at Central were to make sure it was a safe space for staff and children alike.
Green argued that it was a lot of money for a kitchen renovation, and considering there has been talk of closing Central School, it didn’t make sense to invest in the facility until residents were assured the building would stay open.
School board members Peter Bealo of Atkinson and Susan Sherman of Plaistow said Green’s information was incorrect, as there were no discussions the school board was having or has had to close the school.
Bealo said that in the last three years he couldn’t remember one discussion on the point.
Recently, however, Superintendent Earl Metzler, when asked by the Tri-Town Times, as reported last week, whether Central could close pending significant cuts to the budget, said everything was on the table and the school was the first item on the district’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).
Sherman said the CIP was being rethought. Collins noted that a school board retreat in December discussed the CIP and Central.
In 2009 voters overwhelmingly turned down a warrant article that would have consolidated Sandown Central’s students at North School.