State waffles on tax cap
by Mike Eldred
Jan 11, 2018 | 2379 views | 0 0 comments | 107 107 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WHITINGHAM- Budget issues dominated discussions at Tuesday evening’s regular meeting of the Twin Valley School Board.

Twin Valley Elementary School Principal Rebecca Fillion updated board members on Monday’s unplanned school closure. The school day was canceled after personnel arrived to find that the facility’s 800-gallon water system had been drained over the weekend. Fillion said the cause was “the everlasting flush.” A faulty toilet had been running over the weekend, eventually depressurizing the system. She said the system was refilled and repressurized by 11:30 am.

In budget discussions, Windham Supervisory Union Business Manager Karen Atwood said she was having difficulty calculating a projected tax rate based on the draft budget. She said there are two new tax factors, one of which hasn’t been fully defined by the Agency of Education.

One of the factors is the tax rate reduction under Act 46. For the 2019 Twin Valley Union budget, the new district’s first year, the rate should be reduced by 8 cents. But another Act 46 incentive was a 5% cap on any overall increase in the district’s education tax.

Atwood said that incentive was “redefined” as a 5% cap on an increase over the previous year’s equalized tax rate. The change was intended to prohibit districts from increasing spending indiscriminately. However, she said, no guidance has been issued from the Agency of Education. “I’ve reached out to Brad James asking for an order of operations for applying the incentives. He gave one explanation before changing the 5% cap to the equalized rate, but it was still unclear. I’ve tried to reach him all day today, and he doesn’t answer the phone and doesn’t return emails.”

Atwood said, depending on the final determination by the AOE, Wilmington’s rate was likely to go up by either 9.5 cents or 7 cents under the current draft budget. Whitingham’s rate would fall by either 4 cents or 5.5 cents.

The first draft of the 2019 Twin Valley Union budget included cuts to the Twin Valley Middle High School’s student assistance program and the business education program. TVMS Principal Tom Fitzgerald said the cuts were based on expected attrition, and would help offset a $167,000 maintenance line item for upgrades to the school’s backup boilers. Board members balked at the cuts, and the current budget draft of $9,376,820 includes both staff positions, as well as the boiler replacement.

Under draft 2, the district would be in the Act 68 “penalty box” by $1,264 per pupil, Atwood said – about $525,000.

Twin Valley School Board Chair Sharon Berry asked if the $167,000 boiler replacement amount was still valid, since the board authorized the emergency replacement of one boiler at a special meeting a week earlier.

Fitzgerald said there were still two boilers to replace. “Or we could buy school jackets,” he joked.

“What else can we cut?” asked board member Dennis Richter. “We can’t keep going up.”

Fitzgerald and Fillion said the only thing left to cut was school staff.

Fitzgerald said that, if given the choice, he would prefer to cut the boiler replacement from the budget, rather than lose the popular student assistance program, or the business education program. “I think we should add a requirement that every student has to take a personal finance class,” Fitzgerald said.

Board members also discussed borrowing funds to replace the boilers over three or five years. The move would spread the cost over a longer period and reduce the proposed 2019 budget. “I know we’re running on fumes with the boilers that we have now,” said board member Aimee Reed.

In other matters, the board discussed the upcoming school board elections, which Atwood said may appear confusing. She said, for instance, that town school board positions with terms expiring this year would need to be filled again, but the terms would expire on June 30, when the new Twin Valley Union School Board becomes the sole board. But members of the union board with one-year terms expiring this year, despite having been sworn in just last fall, will also need to run again if they want to continue to serve. And, she said, there’s also a vacant Whitingham position on the union board, since the resignation of member Seth Boyd. “I think there will have to be two or three different ballots,” Atwood said.
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