By Thomas P. Caldwell
BRISTOL — The Newfound Area School Board hopes to address a technical problem with funds administration by drafting a warrant article to establish a trustee for those accounts.
School Administrative Unit 4 Business Administrator Michael Limanni told the school board on Monday that the N.H. Department of Revenue Administration has been unable to find a record of the district voting to name the Town of Bristol as the trustee of those funds, although the town is the appropriate body to oversee the funds, and has been doing so for years. He said none of the votes to establish the various trust funds named a trustee as required by law.
Vice-Chair Ruby Hill of Danbury said she cannot imagine the seven towns that make up the Newfound Area School District agreeing to place the money with a single town, saying she would prefer to have a trustee from each town administering the funds. She later offered a motion to direct an attorney to draft a suitable warrant article to address the problem, with one of the options being to establish a board comprising one trustee from each town.
Chair Vincent Paul Migliore asked Limanni whether the school board could administer the funds but Limanni said it needed to be an independent party. The DRA said Bristol is the appropriate party since that is where the central office is located.
The trustee of trust funds serves to ensure that money appropriated for a specific purpose is utilized for that purpose and is not applied to other areas outside the scope of the trust fund. The district has a number of expendable trust accounts and contingency funds, as well as scholarships and other funds that currently are held in an investment pool. In order to access those funds, the district must ask the trustee for their release.
Limanni, recently hired as the business administrator for SAU 4, said that, in reviewing the district's finances, he discovered the problem and the DRA told him the district needed to address the issue to comply with the law. According to statute, the district should have named a trustee when it formed, or when the first fund was established; however, officials have been unable to find any record of the district having done so.
While the DRA said the trustee should be the Town of Bristol, the Newfound board probably could name any of the towns as trustee, although the DRA would have to approve the decision, Limanni said.
The business administrator agreed to draft some sample warrant articles to run by an attorney as a way of avoiding the cost of having an attorney draft an article from scratch.
In other business, board members who serve on both the SAU 4 Board and the Newfound Area School Board — both of which met on Monday — reviewed the proposed SAU and school district budgets, reiterating some disagreement on the spending.
Although the Newfound board already voted for a proposed 2014-2015 budget that now is being reviewed by the school district budget committee, some members would like to see further cuts.
During the School Administrative Unit 4 Board meeting, Lloyd Belbin of Bristol said he could not understand why, with 61 fewer pupils in the district, the superintendent was looking to add a $100,000 curriculum coordinator. (The position actually would pay $80,000 plus benefits.)
Superintendent Stacy Buckley said she was reducing other areas of the budget to fund the position which she felt was essential in bringing the curriculum in line between schools so each grade would be receiving appropriate instruction. Students from outlying schools currently have some difficulty when reaching the middle school because of differing levels of instruction.
When Belbin said, "Kids today don't get the basics," Buckley replied, "That's because no one oversees the K-12 curriculum to see that it happens."
When asked who currently is responsible for curriculum, Buckley said it's part of the superintendent's job, but with other duties, she and the previous superintendents have not had sufficient time to properly address it.
Hill agreed: "It wasn't really getting done with the superintendent trying to do it."
Limanni reiterated that the curriculum coordinator's position was being funded by reallocating the budget and he pointed out that the total proposed budget is $150,000 lower than the current-year spending.
During the Newfound board meeting, another position that met with some opposition was that of a $72,500 school resource officer. While the school district would be funding the SRO position, the officer would be part of the Bristol Police Department.
Belbin repeated his opposition to that position as not being necessary and as something to further increase the school district budget.
Some members of the Newfound Area School District Budget Committee, including former Alexandria Police Chief Harold "Skip" Reilly, also have voiced opposition to the SRO position.
Belbin noted that, despite the school district having reduced the current-year budget, declining student enrollment and the resulting reduction in state aid resulted in the school tax rate increasing by $1 per $1,000 of net assessed valuation, and Bristol taxpayers have been asking why. Other school board members agreed that it is difficult to explain the increased taxes to their constituents.
Migliore said he personally objected to the use of the term "level-funded" when comparing the budget proposal to the previous year. "When we educate fewer kids with the same budget, I don't consider that 'level-funded'," he said.