February 4, 2009
Hollis-Brookline Middle School
Tom Enright, Chairperson
James O’Shea, MD
Susan Hodgdon, Superintendent of Schools
Dawna Duhamel, Business Administrator
Robert Kelly, Director of Special Education
Betsy A. Packard, Recording Secretary
Others present included members of the Public.
Chairperson Tom Enright called the meeting to order at 9:25 p.m.
1. REVIEW OF BUDGET HEARING
Steve Pucci, Budget Committee Chair, stated that in regards to the budget, he was not sure where the School Board was, and wondered how the Board and the Budget Committee could get some closure.
Chair. Enright stated that he was confident that $96,000 would be coming out of the budget, which would get them to 1.24%. He added that he would like to get closer to the 0% increase; however, to do so would start affecting programming.
Mr. Solon pointed out that a lot is guesswork (or estimating) what the cost of items will be in the future. He felt that a contingency fund could bridge the gap of what the Budget Committee felt was over the budget. He pointed out that if a fixed amount is allocated for an item, but the cost is greater than budgeted, then the Administration/Board needs to figure out where to cut costs in the budget to pay for the overage for that item. Mr. Solon felt that the gap was small and were in areas that the cost was questionable. He stated he would like to see a contingency fund.
Mr. Pucci asked if the Board could walk through the different areas that the Budget Committee felt could be reduced, to see if the Board had any different thoughts on reduction, such as healthcare. Mr. Peterson responded that the School Board plans to provide additional choices for healthcare, but they have no way to predict who will take those plans. He added that they cannot force an employee to take a new healthcare plan.
Mr. Vallee stated that they had asked for a legal opinion regarding the Board’s ability to alter a medical plan other than through negotiations. He wondered if they would be getting an answer before they had to vote on the budget. Chair. Enright responded that they would. Mr. Peterson added that the Board was looking into how they can offer additional plans that would potentially lower both the employee’s and the District’s cost. Mr. Pucci stated that he would like a legal opinion on whether it is a negotiated item, or at the discretion of the School Board, not to change the benefits, but to change the deductible. He added that he would like the answer before February 17th.
Mr. Davison stated that $44,480 is for Long Term Disability (LTD). He stated that LTD is an area that is paid by the employee in the private sector. He added that he would like that looked at by a lawyer.
Mr. Pucci stated that expendable supplies are at $213,000. Mr. Peterson informed him that that figure would be reduced that evening. Chair. Enright added that the Board would be proposing a 10% reduction.
Mr. Pucci pointed out that both the Board and the Budget Committee were in agreement with eliminating the purchase of the Student Information System.
Mr. Pucci stated that the cost of fuel was at $4.05, but after November it was $3.00. Ms. Duhamel responded that the cost of fuel is now budgeted at $2.50 for the line item, with a contingency fund. Mr. Pucci stated that electricity was staying the same as last year. Ms. Duhamel explained that there was no change from the November budget. Mr. Hubert added that PSNH gave them the rate on November 1st. Mr. Pucci asked about diesel fuel. Ms. Duhamel stated that diesel is budgeted at $3.00 / gal.
Mr. Davison stated that PSNH was one of the lowest providers of electricity in the country. Other than through conservation, they probably cannot get lower. He wondered if anyone had called Hess or a like company to see about reductions. Ms. Duhamel stated that they had not at that point in time. Mr. Davison felt that it needed to be acted upon. Mr. Pucci felt that there were additional opportunities for reduction in energy through energy conservation. Mr. Peterson stated that Project Progress, a program by citizens, was looking into auditing energy use and conservation of all SAU buildings. Mr. Pucci asked when the audit would be done. Supt. Hodgdon responded that it would be done within two months. She stated that District was currently providing the group with the data they needed. They will look at the figures, then conduct the audit. Mr. Pucci asked if they expected a savings. Supt. Hodgdon responded that they should have a savings of energy initially, but it would be static thereafter.
Mr. Pucci stated that open windows have been brought up. Mr. Solon responded that they do not have a properly balanced heating system, as some classrooms are too hot, while others are too cold. The fact that windows are open shows that there is a problem. He added that they need to figure out the problem and solve the unbalanced heating issue.
Mr. Pucci questioned if the additional money to the State for Retirement Fund was still in the budget. Chair. Enright responded that it was.
Mr. Pucci asked if there were any reductions in transportation. Mr. Peterson responded that there were no reductions as currently shown. He added that the Board agreed that there is an opportunity for reduction in this area.
Mr. Pucci stated that Special Education was at $3.2 million. He wondered if the Board had looked to see if there was some margin they could reduce it by. Bob Kelly, Special Education Director, responded that the Special Education budget was being reduced by $116,878 as of that night, which had to do with the reduction of forecasted out-of-district placement and transportation. He pointed out that the budget was not down due to the request of the Budget Committee or the School Board, but rather because it just happened.
Mr. Pucci asked about snow removal. He added that the Board may want to renegotiate the contract, as it was negotiated when the cost of fuel was high.
Mr. Pucci asked what the assumption for the cost of fuel oil was for the SAU budget. Ms. Duhamel felt it was budgeted at $3.00. Mr. Peterson explained that the fuel was for heating the SAU office. Chair. Enright added that the Hollis School District owns the building, thus, they make the assumptions and then charge the Coop. Chair. Enright explained that salary increment and Assistant Special Education Director were driving the SAU costs.
Mr. Pucci asked about Dues and Stipends. Mr. Peterson responded that the Board was still working on brining the cost of Dues and Stipends down.
Mr. Pucci pointed out that in the Budget Committee’s presentation, and suggested areas of reduction, they were not talking about salary and/or staff reduction. Chair. Enright responded that in order to get the budget to a 0% increase, they would be talking about salary/staff reductions. Chair. Enright stated that there was a fundamental difference in philosophy between the School Board and the Budget Committee. He added that if getting to “0” was a compromise, then he felt there was no compromise. He pointed out that the School Board had brought the budget down, down, down, but that they had not heard any compromise from the Budget Committee.
Mr. Vallee stated that there had been a 4-3-0 vote the first time for a 0% increase. They recently voted 7-0-0. He added that some members felt that a “0” increase was actually a decrease from last year’s budget.
Chair. Enright stated that they had heard a lot of numbers that night. He advised that $300,000 reduction in benefits would not happen.
Mr. Peterson stated that if the numbers that the Budget Committee put up were realistic and they were able to reduce the budget by $350,000, they would still be at a higher figure than what the School Board was presenting ($19,068,837):
Mr. Peterson stated that he had not heard any cooperation from the Budget Committee; he had only heard 0% increase.
Forrest Milkwoski stated that he had a different perspective, and therefore, stepped down as chair of the Budget Committee. He stated that if the School Board could get the budget under the 1% number, he would be willing to jump on-board with the School Board. He felt that the School Board had done an outstanding job.
Mr. Davison stated that they would not know the real numbers until they got State Aid in a year. If the amount of State Aid goes down, then any difference would have to be made up by the taxpayer. He felt that the State Aid would probably go down.
Chair. Enright stated that the Board had heard the Budget Committee. He advised that if the budget goes to 0% increase, it will impact programming.
Mr. Simons stated that there were some people that wanted more than 3% increase in the budget when they started the process. The School Board has brought it down to 1.24%. He pointed out that the Budget Committee has not moved on their number.
Chair. Enright felt that it was not fair for the Budget Committee to present the budget at the Hearing using the November figures.
Mr. Vallee asked if the School Board would propose a special meeting if there was no contract agreement. Chair. Enright responded that they would not ask for a special meeting.
Mr. Pucci felt that they needed to be careful in giving the impression of cutting programs in order to reduce the budget more, as the Budget Committee felt there were other areas to look at. Chair. Enright responded that that was the Budget Committee’s opinion. He stated that the School Board would discuss the budget further, but it will affect programming. Mr. Pucci stated that he would like to know the results of the School Board’s discussion.
Chair. Enright asked Ms. Duhamel to present the $97,000 reduction proposal.
Ms. Duhamel distributed a spreadsheet of the proposed deductions, and explained that Page 1 was by Function and Page 2-5 covered the detail by Line Item.
Ms. Duhamel stated that they were resourceful in how and what they were buying across all areas, except those areas with contracts. She stated that there was a $31,383 reduction of one para.
Chair. Enright explained that Ms. Duhamel proposed a percentage to the Administration, who then went back to the teachers and they made further reductions.
Ms. Duhamel stated that she worries when the budget is this lean. If costs end up being greater in areas than the expected, then they have no place to get the money.
Chair. Enright asked about School Board Services being up $46,998. Ms. Duhamel explained that that figure was for contingency for fuel. They reduced the cost from $3.00 to $2.50, and put the $0.50 in contingency.
Chair. Enright questioned Operation of Plants ($45,643). Ms. Duhamel stated that that was money put into contingency.
Dr. O’Shea questioned the decrease of one Special Education para at the High School. Supt. Hodgdon responded that they have 2 half positions that will support through the first half of the year. Therefore, they are able to take one position out of the budget. Dr. O’Shea asked if the student would be leaving at mid-year. Supt. Hodgdon responded that they will be graduating.
Dr. O’Shea asked if the proposed reductions had been signed-off by the principals. Supt. Hodgdon responded that they had.
Ms. Tremblay asked what the reductions in co-curricular represented. Ms. Duhamel responded that the reductions were teaching materials, uniforms, awards, and replacement equipment.
Mr. Hubert questioned if the $47,000 for fuel in contingency could only be used for fuel. Ms. Duhamel explained that they would be putting it in a warrant, therefore, they would be shifting funds, not reducing.
Mr. Hubert asked in regards to contracted services, if they were locked into the snow removal contract. Ms. Duhamel responded that they had ended a 3-year contract. They put the service out to bid and got one response, which they negotiated the contract. Chair. Enright explained that it was different this year because it involved sanding, which complicated things. Mr. Hubert wondered if they could contract the snow removal and sanding from the Town of Hollis. Chair. Enright responded that it was his understanding that it was a resource issue with the Town. A Selectman conferred that it was a resource issue. Ms. Tremblay asked if the one response to the bid was the current vendor. Ms. Duhamel responded that it was. Ms. Tremblay asked if the RFP specified types of trucks, etc. Ms. Duhamel responded that it did, as well as the time the plowing needed to be done.
Ms. Tremblay stated that the supplier that Nashua uses for fuel is Fred Fuller. For FY10, they have gotten a price of $2.06/gal for oil, and $2.44/gal for diesel. FY09 was at $3.85. She explained that it was not a pre-buy, just a contract that states they will buy all their fuel from them. They have locked gas in at $1.75/gal for FY10. She added that if both Hollis and Brookline School Districts joined in, they could get a better deal.
Chair. Enright asked if the Board would like to leave the contingency alone for now. Mr. Peterson stated he would like to see it come down to $2.85 or $2.80/gal. Chair. suggested taking the $46,998 to $30,000. Mr. Peterson responded that that would be close to $2.80/gal.
Dan Peterson moved that the Board accept the reduction of the budget by $114,545. Fred Hubert seconded.
Ms. Tremblay felt that if they were successful with the contingency, and if they did not use it all, then they should leave what was left in contingency so they could build on it, rather than give it back to the taxpayers.
Motion carried unanimously. 7 – 0 – 0.
Mr. Solon stated that in regards to Retirement Funds, he was trying to understand what the Budget Committee was proposing. Chair. Enright explained that the rate went up because the Trust Fund is inadequate. Some people think that it is an unfunded mandate. Chair. Enright felt that it was just poor management.
Mr. Solon stated that he heard there was a petition warrant article. He questioned if that addressed whether the District would pay the $86,000 or not. Chair. Enright responded that it would, but even if the petition warrant article was passed, it did not mean the District is not obligated to pay. Mr. Peterson pointed out that if they did not budget for it, then they would be in jeopardy of not having the money to pay it. Mr. Solon suggested that they put in a retirement contingency fund, then if they needed to pay the obligation, they would have it. If they did not need it, it would be available to refund the taxpayers. He felt it might help with the Budget Committee and get the budget to “0.”
Tom Solon moved that the Board put $86,000 in a contingency fund specifically targeted for the State Retirement Benefits, to be used in the event that the current obligation comes to pass. Fred Hubert seconded. Motion carried. 5 – 2 – 0. (Enright, O’Shea against.)
Mr. Solon questioned why Dr. O’Shea was against the motion. Dr. O’Shea responded that it was a legal obligation and the District must pay it. He did not see the point of the motion.
Dr. O’Shea asked if there was a warrant that the Board could put up to continue bargaining in good faith, and if they come to an agreement, they could have a special meeting for professional staff salaries. Chair. Enright responded that they could do it, but he was not in favor of it. He felt that the Board put a lot into the negotiations, and they bargained as hard as they could and with good faith. The Union walked away. The Union did not even ask to continue after mediation. Mr. Peterson added that the Board needed to bargain in good faith, which they did, and there needed to be a deadline, which there was.
James O’Shea moved that the Board submit a warrant article to continue negotiations with the professional staff. Fred Hubert seconded. Motion did not carry. 1 – 6 – 0 (Enright, Peterson, Hubert, Simons, Solon, Tremblay against.)
Chair. Enright felt that the Board should not put in a warrant article for a special meeting if the support staff warrant article ($44,000) was voted down, as they would be negotiating with the support staff anyway, as this was the last year of their contract. Mr. Peterson and Mr. Hubert felt the same.
Mr. Simon stated that the support staff contract was a good contract that the Board negotiated. If the town voted it down, he would speak against doing so.
James O’Shea moved that the Board leave the support staff warrant article as it is, and not request a special meeting. Janice Tremblay seconded. Motion carried unanimously. 7 – 0 – 0.
Chair. Enright pointed out that this year’s warrant was simple, and wondered if there was a need for an attorney at the meeting. Mr. Peterson felt that they needed one because the benefits issue would continue. Mr. Solon wondered if they got a clear written statement, if that would suffice. The Board felt that an attorney was needed at the District Meeting.
Mr. Simons asked about an expendable trust. Chair. Enright felt that there would be a problem, as it is a money issue and they would need to have discussed it at the Budget Hearing.
Mr. Peterson felt that the Board needed to reduce the transportation line item. He suggested between $20,000 -$30,000. Chair. Enright stated that the Board would be meeting in two weeks and asked to task Ms. Duhamel to come to the meeting with a reduction figure.
Mr. Peterson felt that the Board needed to do one of two things:
1) Ask the bus company to use their new software to confirm the current routes, or
2) Tell the bus company to reduce the routes.
Chair. Enright asked that they continue this discussion in two weeks when they could have more detail. Mr. Solon questioned if the bus company did not want to run fewer buses for the Coop as for the elementary schools. Chair. Enright responded that he had been wrong, as they run fewer right now. He added that he wanted to make sure that they had not already taken money out for the reduction of a bus, but had not taken the bus out.
Chair. Enright stated that they had one more piece of business to discuss. Ms. Duhamel had a presentation on what a “0” budget would look like.
Ms. Duhamel stated that they were over by $35,000 in transportation. She added that they had taken 2 buses out of the budget, but never took the buses out from running.
Ms. Duhamel presented the following:
Transportation -$20,000 may not be able to do this
Curriculum Development -$20,000 cut Carol Mace’s curriculum committees – stipends
Computer -$43,000 no new computers
Wage increase for non-union -$22,000
One Employee FT -$50,000
$270,000 or $250,000 if deduct transportation
Chair. Enright stated that this allowed them to make choices if it came to pass.
Dr. O’Shea asked that the Administrators explain the reductions at the next Coop meeting.
Supt. Hodgdon stated that she recommended Mary Young to fill a vacancy in Special Education. It is a 0.5 FTE position for the remainder of the 08-09 year. Ms. Young has a Bachelor and Masters in Learning Disabilities, and is Certified in Autism. She has 20 years experience. She would be M Step 14 at $15,132.51 pro-rated, with a start date of February 3, 2009. She will be filling a vacancy through the end of the year.
Fred Hubert moved that the Board approve Mary Young for a 0.5 FTE Special Education position, at M Step 14, with a salary of $15,132.51 pro-rated. Steve Simons seconded.
Mr. Simons asked what the rate was of the person who vacated the position. Supt. Hodgdon responded that she did not have that information with her.
Motion carried. 7 – 0 –1. (Solon abstained)
Janice Tremblay moved that the Board enter non-public session under the provisions of RSA 91-A:3 II (c) reputation. Steve Simons seconded. A roll call vote was taken with all members present voting in the affirmative. 7 - 0 - 0.
The Board entered non-public session at 11:20 p.m.