You’ll Decimate the Budget
Thursday the budget committee received La Salle’s first presentation of the 2011 budget. The presentations were very high level. The video and the presentation are posted on the budget committee web site.
The committee met after the presentations and the vice chair asked if it was possible to segregate discretionary spending from obligations. The answer, as always, from SAU 55 Business Administrator George Stokinger, was that this would be very difficult. He went on to complain that we wasted a lot of time on this last year and it was time to move on because the SAU respects the wishes of the taxpayers.
I reminded the committee that the SAU just asked the school board to allow $1.2m not allocated for school construction to be used for engineering studies and permitting for a new high school. Before I could add that Mr. La Salle warned the school board that a no vote on a construction warrant would preclude misappropriating other funds for this purpose, I was ruled out of order by the chair.
There was other discussion of the budget process culminating in the annual pronouncement that the budget committee recommends changes to the District which may or may not be accepted and that the administration is free to spend the budget as they see fit once it is passed by the voters. I countered that the administration could not transfer funds to a line that was zeroed and asked Mr. Stokinger if he would split buckets so that we could zero out frivolous expenditures. He said that the state sets the buckets — which is a half truth. I told him that not allowing us to zero out unwanted items by putting them in buckets with necessary items could result in necessary items going unfunded. Mr. Stokinger said that doing that would decimate the budget. And that is the SAU 55 tactic for boxing a timid budget committee out of the budget discussion.
The budget committee attended a Budget and Finance workshop offered by the New Hampshire Local Government Center. I would have called this Loopholes 101 as the program seemed to be designed to help government officers secure more funding from stingy taxpayers. Top of their list of problems was SB2 which allows taxpayers to vote on local matters under cover of the secret ballot. Government employees and officers fear the taxpayers will vote down the budget each year and they will have to make due with a bare bones default budget. SAU 55 has found a work around for this problem. The administration submits a default budget that is more than the requested budget so that a vote against the proposed budget will put more money in the hands of the administration. Brenda Copp and I challenged this tactic last year and Mr. Stokinger stated that the DRA (Depart of Revenue Administration) reviewed and approved the default budget. I asked the DRA rep at the seminar about this at Loopholes 101 and was told the no one from the state reviews the default budget. She stated that the practice of submitting a bloated default budget violated the spirit and letter of state law but that the only remedy was to challenge the default budget in court. And that is the SAU 55 tactic for boxing the voters out of the budget process.
I can think of other remedies. The most important thing we must do is to replace the school board members. The district is able to do all these bad things only because the school board rubber stamps La Salle’s edicts. Elect one decent person to the school board and it would not be possible to seal the minutes of a meeting for 99 years. Elect five decent people and the schools will start getting better. Change starts in March!
Until we can elect a decent school board, we can attend the Deliberative Session and amend the proposed budget. This would put La Salle and his Posse on notice that if they do not start teaching, we will not give them any money. See you at the Deliberative Session!