March 09, 2010

WARRANT & FINANCE COMMITTEE WORKSHOP                                                                                                                                   

MARCH 9, 2010

                                   

                                                                                                                                                APPROVED       

 

A.        ROLL CALLActon School

 

Members present were:                        Debi Rix – Chairman                                                               

Karl Hodgdon – Vice Chairman           

                                                                        John Moore                                                                                          James Crowley

Roger Roy                                                                                            Elias Thomas

 

Also present were Dennis Long and Lorissa Crocket, Selectpersons; Jeanette Bearse, Judi Shain, Richard Michaud, Mary Stanton and Ted Kryzak, School Committee; Alton Hadley, Superintendent;  Trish Halladay, Principal; Carlene Doyle, Finance Director, David Cote, Teacher and Jim Driscoll, resident .

 

                                                                                               

B.         APPROVAL OF MINUTES – There were no Minutes approved.

 

           

C.        OLD BUSINESS

Warrant & Finance Committee’s Meeting with School Committee’s Re 2010-11 Fiscal Year Budget – Ms Rix mentioned that the Warrant & Finance Committee submitted their recommendations to the School Committee after many workshops, research and review of any and all things having to do with the 2010-11 School Budget.  She felt the Committee did their due diligence in looking at area towns and school districts of the same size as Acton to see how the Town can give its children the best education possible and still answer the needs of the community with regard to real estate taxes.  She said the Committee understands the concerns about what they have proposed.  She advised the Committee was given the proposed School Committee’s budget and as of March 1, 2010 it contained information that was unclear about some reductions.  She stated the Committee looked at it and tried to justify their recommendations.  She informed their recommendations brought the budget down to $4.55 Million which is approximately $500,000 less than what was proposed by the School Committee.  She mentioned that the School Committee is aware of what they can do and what they believe is right for the students.  She said the Committee has indicated where the reductions can be made such as two or three additional furlough days for the staff, a 3% pay reduction for teachers and reductions in the Town’s contribution to the health insurance.  She stated all of those items are covered by contracts and what the School Committee chooses to do now is up to them and how they wish to present the budget to the taxpayers.  She advised it was difficult for the Committee to make the cuts they recommended, but if the budget wasn’t reduced by the $500,000, real taxes would have increased quite a bit for the next fiscal year.  

 

At this time, Mr. Hodgdon read a prepared statement some of which reiterated some of Ms Rix’s comments.  He said it is the primary goal [of the Warrant & Finance Committee] to make recommendations which will be in the best interest of the taxpayers.  He stated the Committee has worked hard on the questions it had and at times the answers were vague.  A copy of Mr. Hodgdon’s comments are attached hereto and made a part hereof.

 

To Ms Shain’s question of how the Warrant & Finance Committee expects the School Committee to get around the teacher and support staff contracts since doing as recommended would be violating the law, Ms Rix responded she understands the problems with existing contracts, but the School Committee has to determine how they can meet the recommended budget.  She said they should attempt to renegotiate with the teachers and is aware the support staff contract will be negotiated at the end of this fiscal year which will give them the opportunity to implement some of the Warrant & Finance Committee’s recommendations.  She stated what they are saying is the budget needs to be reduced and they know the School Committee could cut positions, but they [the Warrant & Finance Committee] didn’t want to do that so the School Committee will have to make the reductions by going back and renegotiating the contracts.  She said the voters will vote on the budget the School Committee gives them.  She asked if they [the School Committee] could reduce the budget to $4.5 Million without cutting staff.  She stated they looked at other school districts and communities and every municipality is in the same position, but Acton has a higher per student cost [than some other area school districts].  She advised what the School Committee was given this evening are just recommendations.

 

To Ms Shain’s statement that Ms Rix is saying the Warrant & Finance Committee doesn’t have any helpful or useful answers, Ms Rix said what they have been given is useful to get in line with everyone else in the State and country.  She stated they are simply showing the School Committee what other school districts are doing for this and next year and what other teachers make. 

 

Ms Shain stated that to compare Acton to Portland or an SAD doesn’t make sense because when those districts make cut backs, they have other staff that can make up the loss.  She said Acton only has a certain amount of both teaching and support staff and no extra.  She said when the Warrant & Finance Committee suggests that special education, art, gym and music be cut, they are cutting the school staff to which Ms Rix stated they were not cut entirely.

 

Mr. Roy said he understands there are contracts, but when the Sheriff’s Department reduced its staff last year, there was a contract in place.  He stated the Committee tried not to impact anyone and just suggested that there be more negotiating done.  He mentioned Acton is the only school district that hasn’t made substantial cuts.  He said they have worked very hard to appease everyone, but it can’t be done.

 

Mr. Thomas stated the Committee knows there are other school districts with contracts that have renegotiated with the teachers by explaining they either renegotiate or lose teaching positions.  He referenced an example where the principal stated things had to be reduced and when a staff member said he/she didn’t want to do that, the principal asked the person which position would she cut.

 

To Ms Shain’s comment that the School Committee and the teachers have already agreed to forego the 3% increase they are scheduled to get this year and to include a furlough day, Mr. Thomas stated some people have done the same thing and it was more than 3%.

 

Ms Rix said foregoing a pay increase is not a pay cut because the money wasn’t there to begin with.  She stated the salaries [in Acton] are high with new teachers earning approximately $32,000 with Mr. Kryzak advising that is the State rate and the school district has no say in that even without contracts.

 

Ms Shain informed that through the contract language, the reduction in force doesn’t with go to the highest paid teacher, but rather the date of hire by the school.  She said experienced teachers have a good deal to offer over new teachers. 

  

Ms Stanton pointed out that it comes down to what you value and knows the teachers value education.  She read something out of the Ethics Manual and said the School Committee wants to provide the best education to the children. 

 

To Mr. Thomas’ question no matter what the cost, Ms Stanton mentioned they have already eliminated the Spanish course.  She stated reducing the budget might well reduce the students test scores.  She disagreed that Acton had the highest teacher or support staff salaries to which Mr. Thomas replied that $70,000 is high with Ms Stanton responding that no one is paid that with Mr. Hodgdon saying that occurs when the benefits are add.

 

Ms Rix pointed out other districts don’t pay 100% of the health insurance.  She stated Acton was on the higher end [of pay] for teachers with a BA.  She felt the principal did a great job cutting the budget as much as she could for both this and next year as well as attempting to recoup the funds the school district was short for this year.  She said the Warrant & Finance Committee was told Acton is low compared to other area towns, but with regard to health insurance, Acton pays more than other schools and the pay is not the lowest.  She mentioned tuition reimbursement which is in the contract is one thing Acton can’t afford just like other school districts.  She said giving up tuition reimbursement and paying a little more for insurance might make it possible for everyone to keep their job.  She stated it is difficult to sit in front of teachers since they are the people who will be affected. 

           

To Ms Stanton’s and Mr. Michaud’s reference to the elimination of the Spanish program and the activity bus, Ms Rix mentioned the Town didn’t vote to do that specifically, but the School Committee choose to do so to make the budget work.

 

Ms Shain mentioned that Sanford’s benefit package is approximately $2,000 more than some other school districts and is also smaller than others. 

 

Ms Doyle explained how most of the health insurance plans work and what will increase the premium with Ms Shain pointing out that during the renegotiation of the teachers contract the health insurance plan was reduced from the standard plan to the “choose” a plan option with adding short and long term disability insurance which resulted in a $30,000 savings. 

 

Mr. Roy said it wasn’t the plan that was the problem but rather paying 100% of the premium which he felt was the biggest factor.

 

Mr. Driscoll stated regarding the Committee’s questions and Mr. Hodgdon’s comments that some of the answers were vague, he didn’t agree because he was at one of the Meetings where the School Committee did a good job [answering the Warrant & Finance Committee’s questions].  He said with regard to their recommendations, at what open Meeting did they put them together.  He mentioned the Committee’s passing of the laptop computer around to the Members only and reiterated at what open Meeting did the Committee develop their recommendations. 

 

Mr. Roy said parts [of the recommendations] were developed at all of them [the Meetings].  He stated those Meetings were open to the public with Mr. Michaud stating he didn’t recall any of the specific cuts being done at a public Meeting.

 

It was mentioned at the Meeting of March 8, 2010, the Warrant & Finance Committee’s discussion couldn’t be heard.

 

 

At this time, Buck Pierce advised that Acton has some of the best teachers and wouldn’t like to see the school have only new teachers.

 

Ms Rix said she appreciates the teachers and support staff and agrees they are great.  She mentioned  there are instances where the Town paid for a teacher to obtain a Master’s Degree while the State only requires two continuing education courses within five years in order to retain certification and teachers are paid higher because of that degree.  She said she understands it takes special people to be a teacher, but they only work 180 days a year and have vacations and summers off while getting the same pay.  She mentioned that the audience is here for this Meeting because they are involved it the school.  She stated there is a perception that the more money you spend the better the education.  She reiterated the Warrant & Finance Committee makes recommendations and the School Committee decides whether they want to follow any of them.

 

During a further discussion about the laptop computer being passed around to each of the Warrant & Finance Committee Members, Mr. Roy reiterated it was only a cover letter and the reason the audience didn’t receive a copy of the proposed reductions was because changes were going to be made prior to the recommendations being given to the School Committee.

 

A number of residents expressed their concern about the Committee’s action at the March 8, 2010 Meeting and David Cote, a teacher, expressed his feelings about the blanket statements the Committee made about the complacency of some of the teachers.  He felt the Town is at a point where things have to change so that people can work together in a professional way.  He thought the Committee has made their decisions in a vacuum as they haven’t come into the school to see what goes on. 

 

To a question about how much will the $500,000 impact the taxes, Ms Crocket said it would be 18ยข per $1,000.

 

At this time, Ms Shain read a prepared statement from the School Committee in which they expressed their feelings about the Warrant & Finance Committee’s recommendation and set forth the efforts they have made to reduce costs over the past few years.  The statement is attached hereto and made a part hereof.

 

 

D.        OTHER BUSINESS - There was no other business to come before the Committee.

 

E.         NEXT MEETING

 

It was noted that the Warrant & Finance Committee will meet on Monday, March 29. 2010, at at the Acton Town Hall to begin their review of the municipal budget.

 

F.         ADJOURNMENT - The Meeting was adjourned at .

 

                                                                                    Respectfully submitted,

           

                                                                                    ______________________________

                                                                                    ANNA M. WILLIAMS,

                                                                                    Recording Secretary