MUST pass School Articles 2 and 5
The importance of voting YES on School Articles 2 and 5 on March 10th cannot be over-emphasized.
To begin with, if the school board's recommended budget, Article 2, is voted down, the school default budget will kick in. And that default budget, for the first time ever, is not only higher than the school board's own recommended budget, it is $1 million higher!
How could this happen? After all, the school default budgets have always been lower than recommended budgets, right? And school default budgets are supposed to protect the school department by providing operating funds in case a proposed budget is voted down, right?
The answer is simple: year after year, the school board has been calculating their default budget inaccurately. Interestingly, doing so works to their advantage.
This is not just our opinion, but also the opinion of many Budget Committee members, including Chairman Dan Cloutier. And when you take a look at the wording of that state RSA, you'll quickly realize the school board's inaccurate calculation method is no accident.
Default budgets exist as safety nets for municipalities and school districts in the event the voters defeat the requested operating budgets. In such cases, municipalities or school districts would then have no money with which to operate. So the concept of default, or "fallback" budgets was legislated.
New Hampshire state RSA 40:13, IX (b) defines what a default budget is, and defines the formula to be used for calculating it. That formula begins with last year's budget then makes adjustments to that number for such things as contractual obligations, debt service, and more.
The problem is that starting number: "last year's budget". The school board "interprets" that starting number as being last year's APPROVED budget.
We, along with Mr. Cloutier and other members of the Budget Committee, on the other hand, believe that number should be the ACTUAL budget from last year, i.e., the amount of money that the school actually spent. We also believe there can be no mistaking the state law that dictates this.
The wording of the RSA is crystal clear when defining "last year's budget". It states that the term 'Default Budget' "…means the amount of the same appropriations as contained in the operating budget authorized for the previous year, reduced and increased, as the case may be, ..."
The key phrase is "REDUCED and INCREASED, as the case may be." The "case" last year was that the authorized school budget of $33.2 million was REDUCED to $30.8 million, as the school board ended up actually spending $2.8 million less. Accordingly, "last year's budget" number, as is clearly defined by state law, is $30.8 million.
But when the school district calculates its own default budget, they conveniently ignore the section that says "REDUCED and INCREASED, as the case may be" and don't make the required adjustment. As such, they began their default budget calculation with a number that is $2.8 million higher than it should be.
Further proof that their calculation is inaccurate is the fact that for the first time ever, the school budget is actully HIGHER that their own recommended budget, contrary to the intent of a default budget!
It is inherently dangerous for the school district to be calculating its own default budget. Effectively, the fox is guarding its own henhouse. No other department in town does this. And don't be fooled by the school board's recent claims that the Board of Selectmen (BOS) operate just as they school board does. This propaganda is completely false. The Board of Selectmen does not have its own budget, nor does it spend the town budget, nor does it calculate the town default budget.
But the school department does, and by inaccurately calculating a default budget to their advantage, they are now in the unique position of campaigning against their own recommended budget!
School Article 5 would correct this problem by transferring responsibility for calculating the school default budget from the school board to the town budget committee.
It is important to remember that passage of School Article 5 would not affect the school board's ability to come up with a proposed budget, present it to the budget committee, present it at school deliberative sessions and later place it on the ballot. But it would insure that if the school's recommended budget be voted down, the fallback default budget would be accurate - and most likely lower that the proposed budget - as a default budget is intended to be and as mandated by state law.
The default budget on the school warrant should be $32.6 million, not $35.6 million. This perpetual problem MUST be corrected once and for all.
On March 10th, it is imperative that we all vote YES on both
School Budget Article 2 and School Petition Article