To The Daily Sun,
A letter published in Friday, Feb. 17's Sun was intentionally misleading and I wish to tell the public the truth about the Gilford school budget and what happened at the Deliberative Session on Feb. 10.
The Deliberative Session was nothing more than an annually orchestrated dog and pony show put on by the Gilford School Board. Every year they organize school employees and their families to come to this event to heap praise on the School Board, and undo the hard work of the Budget Committee. The comments from the floor are pre-written, the "speakers" read from their scripts, never wavering from the School Board's own talking points.
Despite what the School Board chair wrote in this paper, the bulk of the "voters" who attended the Deliberative Session were only a very small portion of Gilford's voting base. They attended for their own self-interest, and they raised their voting cards under the watchful eye of their (or a family member's) employers. Last year these "voters" added several hundred thousand dollars to the budget, causing the Budget Committee to not recommend the budget. Last March the voters of Gilford overwhelmingly sided with the Budget Committee and rejected the proposed budget. This caused the School District to operate from a default budget that they prepared themselves.
This default budget contained at least $115,000 in one-time expenditures which, by law, should have been removed. Despite being forced to operate with a budget that the School Board claimed was about $200,000 less than what they said was needed, they immediately found $118,000 to give raises to non-union staff. The largest of the raises went to the administrators, some of whom also got large bonuses added to their base salaries as an award for "longevity." These raises are not allowed, by law, to be part of a default budget. Even after spending all that, the School District will end the school year with approximately $375,000 in surplus.
By my calculations that means there was approximately a half million dollars of fat was built into their default budget. This is why it is so important to support the petitioned warrant article seeking to shift the responsibility of creating the default budget to the Budget Committee. It is no longer acceptable to allow the fox to guard the hen house.
I certainly hope that School Board members don't injure their shoulders while reaching back to pat themselves on the back over their "modest 1.1 percent" increase to their "fiscally responsible" budget proposal, because this too is a lie. You see, they assume that the voters are stupid. They hope to confuse you with their shell game.
Let's do the math: The current (default) budget is $25,688,824; $36,805 was added by warrant as the first payment on the bond for the Elementary School upgrades, making the total operating budget $25,725,089. The proposed budget (as amended by Deliberative Session and not recommended by the Budget Committee) that will appear on the March ballot is $26,019,631 — an increase of $294,542 — but this doesn't include the first year cost of the poorly negotiated union contract for teachers at $296,819, or the $167,500 of new capital reserve funds the School Board is seeking through warrant. That makes the total sought by the School Board $26,483,950, an increase of $758,861 or roughly 3 percent, not the 1.1 percent that the School Board is bragging about.
In my six years serving on the Budget Committee this is the largest year-over-year increase by over $100,000. This, at a time when the student enrollment has dramatically decreased by over 5.1 percent (62 students) since the 2015-16 school year (1,207) to a 2017-18 projected enrollment of 1,145 students.
Now, a few facts about the proposed teacher contract: This is by far the most expensive three-year teacher contract since the inception of the SAU in 1998. The additional cost for the current teacher contract this year was $87,585. The proposed three-year contract sought by the School Board will add an additional $296,819 to that cost in just the first year. The cost will continues to rise. In year two it is $565,017, and $810,409 in the third year, and this is in addition to what is already budgeted. In total this contract will add $1,672,245 to teacher salaries and benefits over just three years.
Sadly, this contract will cost the taxpayers far more than that, as the School Board negotiators failed to factor in any increase in the cost of health insurance (14.4 percent increase in just the first year) or the several hundred thousand dollars the taxpayers will have to pony up to pay the "Cadillac health care tax" that is currently slated to go into effect in 2020.
Now I know that am going to be attacked as being anti-education or anti-teacher but nothing could be further from the truth. I support teachers. They do a great job. But I am also a realist who understands that this rate of growth is simply not sustainable.
I do not believe that anyone on either side of the contract negotiations ever considered all the families in Gilford who struggle to pay their property taxes, people who work hard 10-12 hours a day for far less money than their public sector counterparts that they support though their property taxes.
The bottom line is that on March 14 the taxpayers of Gilford have the opportunity to once again follow the lead of your Budget Committee and vote down this inflated budget and huge union contract.
This is my last year on the Budget Committee. My term officially ends on Election Day. I thank the people of Gilford for giving me the honor of serving them for the past six years.