Below are the notes taken at the FY19 WRSD Budget Roundtable Meeting on 11/2/17. This meeting included WRSD admin, as well as the chairperson of the Selectmen, chairman of the Fincom, and town administrator of each of the 5 Wachusett towns, as well as a representative of Kim Ferguson’s office and Senators Chandler and Gobi’s office. The roundtable discussion provided an opportunity for each town and the district to speak or present on the topic of the school budget and the impact to their municipality. The roundtable discussion then proceeded into an open dialogue between all parties at the table.
WRSD BUDGET ROUNDTABLE MEETING
11/2/17 – Holden Senior Center – 6:30 pm
[These are my notes and are by no means perfect, so if you see something wrong, let me know and I can fix it. I’ve added question marks when I wasn’t absolutely sure who said something]
Present at the table (that I remember):
- Darryl McCall – Superintendent WRSD
- Joe Scanlon – Director of Business and Finance, WRSD
- Town manager, chairperson of selectboard, chairperson of Fincom of each of the 5 district towns
- Ken Mills – chairman of the school committee
- A representative from Kim Ferguson’s office
- A representative from the offices of Senators Anne Gobi and Harriette Chandler
WELCOME BY PETER LUKES, town manager of Holden
- Introduced format that the WRSD would make a presentation, then each town would have a few minutes to speak, then general roundtable discussion would occur
- Asked that everyone remain civil during the discourse, by joking that they not poke each other’s eyes out
PRESENTATION BY DARRYL McCALL
- Welcomed all, including “those who came to listen”.
- Looking forward to “open discourse around the budget process”
- This is the 3rd budget roundtable
- Click the link below to read the slides presented
- Hoped that as problems were discussed, solutions were also discussed and that they all walked away from the table with actionable items
- Intrinsic benefit to a strong school system (i.e. property values, destination, etc.)
- Population and Growth Study being completed – suspected that final recommendation will come back that Holden needs either a new school or significant additions to 2 current schools. The town will pay to build, but this will require teachers, maintenance, etc.
- Go after the state with a “formal action” – we have a good footing when they have denied us $12 million over 9 years in transportation costs
- Presented how they’ve increased revenue (i.e. increased fees, etc) and lowered expenses this past year (employee sacrifices, regionalized some services like IT, animal control, planner, etc)
- Discussed erosion of other municipal departments compared to the growth of the WRSD budget in past years (Click link to see slide titled “% of TOTAL MUNICIPAL BUDGET)
- Discussed the “2.5 Percent Battlecry” – What the benefits would be to towns if WRSD increases were kept at 2.5%. Every fraction of a percent increase of the WRSD budget has a significant impact on other town services (click link to see slide titled “WRSD Budget & Town Assessments – Actual/ At 2.5% Budget Growth)
- Click the link below to read the slides presented
- Chair of selectboard gave some of his background and spoke of his previous and current support of the schools
- Reviewed how the share that the towns pay has increased more significantly than the share paid by the state, as well as the difference between the state average and WRSD in per pupil spending, which is $3409.
- Princeton’s Minimum Local Contribution in FY18 was $2200/ student more than the district average
- Other services in their town are declining – their senior center is closed.
- If the district average was more by $2200, that would be an additional $15 million+ in the district
- The state contribution is declining
- Every year, costs go up across the board (in homes, businesses, etc) In the case of the schools, those increases are paid 100% by the towns and not at all by the state The state is the culprit!
- Princeton trusts that the administration and teachers know how to do their jobs.
- Like Princeton did 6 years ago over unfair Chapter 70 funding formula, the towns need to coordinate to a specific goal to approach the state about being underfunded.
JOE SCANLON – Director of Business and Finance, WRSD
3 Factors affecting budget
- We no longer accept school choice, so as school choice students graduate, we will lose that revenue source
- OPEB (?) account, Moody’s rating will worsen – they will have to create a new low category for our school district
- High School bonds – can refinance one soon and the bulk will be paid off in 2025 which will help all towns tremendously
- We always support the school budget – you can count on us.
- Only 2% increases in other town departments
- A lot of capital improvements coming
- This past year was the first time they felt a push back from the citizens about the school budget, but they’ll do the best they can to get it through this year
- This budget situation is not sustainable – WRSD assessments are above Sterling revenues
- Need partnership – The 5 towns need to “work together to fix this”.
- Sterling is pro-schools and always will be , but not without limits. They will do their best, but are not optimistic about getting any more help from the state
Board of Selectmen Chair
- “I am from Paxton and I am not anti-school” as some in the other towns seem to believe
- We have limitations
- Current issues in Paxton
- Can’t go upstairs in senior center, downstairs is wet and moldy
- Town Hall is old and the upstairs can’t be used
- DPW building needs updating; it was built in the 1950s
- Reserves are lowest of 5 towns
- Use free cash as part of the budget every year; supposed to be for one-time use projects
- Why Paxton has trouble with funding
- Large, beautiful college in town….that doesn’t pay taxes
- Lots of reservoirs which are land owned by other towns.
- What they are trying to do to bridge the gap
- OPEB – opened an account, but have put no $ into it
- 0% increases for municipal employees
Paxton wants to support the schools
- Letter campaign to state about 100% funding of transportation
- That 100% funding would alone put Paxton in a position to pass the budget without an override
- Increase in retirement insurance was as great as the levy increase
- It’s a REVENUE PROBLEM!
- Have had overrides for past 6 years, because they don’t want to make the decision for the people of Paxton.
- Citizens have no right to complain if you don’t go to the polls
- The schools should get the parents out there to vote
- The parents need to support the overrides
- $234,000 is the average override over the past 6 years. 100% transportation funding by the state would cover this, so no override would be needed.
Rep. from office of Kim Ferguson
- Transportation funding is her main focus
- Suggest getting behind 1 or 2 priorities
- Bill put forth to set timeline for recommendations to be implemented
Rep. from Senator Chandler’s and Senator Gobi’s Offices
- They could not attend because senate was in session
- Chandler Bill S217
- Regional School district foundation budget
- Suggest writing to the State Education Committee
Ken MIlls – Chair of WRSD School Committee
- School Committee takes financial matters seriously – spend a lot of time discussing
- Need to raise revenue
- 11/28 meeting with Dr. Ben Tafoya of State Auditor’s Office and Quabbin Regional School District to discuss recent report and ideas about bridging budget gaps https://www.facebook.com/events/196895440854439/
- They are working with Quabbin on some cost sharing measures
- Budget Sustainability Subcommittee formed – working on a 5 year projection of budget, as well as looking for alternative means to raise revenue
OPEN FORUM/ ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION
- State has $40 million budget – 14 million for transportation is a small share for them and HUGE for us.
- Transportation may be the easiest to fix, but it will by FY22 before we see any traction from the auditor’s report because of the government machine.
- Is there any plan to bridge the gap between now and then?
- Regional School districts are 10% of the state. Work with the MA Association of Regional School Districts
- We are short everywhere (teachers don’t have supplies, technology is well below where other school and districts in state are, etc)
- $1 million (from getting transportation funded 100% will help get town budgets passed
- 1st time we have a glimmer of hope from the state level
- We have some hope, so we’ve got to make something happen with the state and quick
- 5-6 year projection of budget will be done in 1 month or so
- Can all town’s join Paxton’s letter campaign to the state – As a group, it will be a louder voice
- Can the WRSD (McCall) take a lead to unify the other regional school districts
- Applaud Quabbin collaboration and looking for other revenues
- Get selectboards and Fincoms to write to state too
- Considering giving mini-grants to Holden teachers as recommended by Holden Ed. Options Review Committee (HEORC)
- Forming a committee to review regional agreement – as discussed in HEORC report – create a way for districts to leave K-8
- Looking toward the future – Holden wants to spend more on education
- Holden’s financial fortunes are tied to the foundation formula and that could change again at any point
- We need to get more money into classrooms
- $20-30 million more just to be at the state average of per pupil spending
- Our staff work harder to make up for the gaps – deal with old books, lack of supplies, PD, etc.
- Rutland is not anti-education
- 1700+ students – same # of senior citizens
- Have an opioid crisis – single custodian for town buildings, etc.
Thank you to group by town manager of Holden at 8pm