GILFORD — Budget Committee member Norman Silber has demanded that the School Board recalculate its default budget, saying School Board members knew one-time expenses were improperly included. He made the demand in a letter sent to the board yesterday. Silber wrote that he believes they had knowledge of the alleged "false and materially misleading" numbers in the default budget preparation and he "formally request(s) and demand(s)" that the school district remove the one time expenditures from it and represent a corrected default budget to be put on the ballot before the March 8 town election."
Budget Committee Chairman Kevin Leandro said the Budget Committee had identified nearly $300,000 in one-time expenditures that were in the default budget including $100,000 for the demolition of the old Imagination Station at the elementary school.
Leandro made his comments at the public hearing held Tuesday night to get opinions of the residents and taxpayers regarding the proposed school budget of $25,667,251. The proposed budget includes merit raises of 3 percent for union staff and 1.5 percent for nonunion staff, including administrators without a contract.
The default budget, or the budget that will be in place should voters reject the the Budget Committee's proposed budget, is $21,573 higher than the School Board's proposed budget at $25,688,824. Leandro said this is "strange logic" but it's too late for anyone to do anything about it this year. The default budget by law contains the same spending levels as last year, plus contractual agreements minus one-time expenditures. There are no raises for support staff and administrators in the default budget.
Leandro said that there is a provision in state law that provides for the default budget to be created by the Budget Committee.
"Based on what I'm hearing, do you predict there will be a warrant article? asked resident Christine Wood.
"Yes," said Silber.
During the public hearing, a woman in the audience said the salary line for nonunion staff could be raised at the deliberative session of School District Meeting. Leandro agreed, but said the Budget Committee gets a chance to vote again as to whether or not they will recommend an altered budget while reminding them the default budget has no raises for nonunion employees.
Many of those who attended the public hearing spoke against reducing the amount of raises given to support staff but had few if any comments on the default budget preparation.
Charlotte Landeau said that if the school district wants to see a new union, cutting support staff raises is one way to achieve it. Leandro replied that he ran an unionized company at one point in his life and is "not threatened by any union in the school district."
Norm Silber said the Budget Committee is only given a salary line and the superintendent and the School Board can distribute the money any way they want.
Leandro said that if it were up to him, the 11 administrators who are earning near the top of the salary scale would get nothing while the cafeteria staff and janitors would get paid 4 or 5 percent. But it isn't up to him, he added.
School Board member Sue Allen said the Budget Committee wasn't factoring in the amount of time many of the support staff had been with the school district by denying them 3 percent raises.
One paraprofessional said that she had worked for the school district for 27 years, is a certified worker with children with disabilities, has a bachelor's degree and has to continually update her education to continue being effective and certified for her job. She said she was insulted the committee reduced her pay increase and then likened her to an unskilled laborer.
The overall tone of the meeting was hostile. Many people who attended said they felt some board members, Leandro in particular, was not listening but was rebutting comments made by them and putting them on the defensive.
Many School Board members voiced their displeasure because Leandro was arguing with every comment that was made. He said as chairman, he was only trying to explain the reasoning behind the committee's reasons for making the cut.
Outgoing Superintendent Kent Hemingway made a final comment that during the past four years he's had a good collaboration with the Budget Committee.
"I appreciate the comments from the public. Any documents that come forward were my responsibility," he said. "We have been transparent and open with every part of our budget and have exceeded our responsibilities to be so."