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Highland budget revote set for June 19

May 30th, 2012

In their first meeting after voters defeated the proposed budget for the 2012-2013 school year, the Highland Board of Education met on May 22 to consider next steps.

The revote will take place on Tuesday, June 19. The board has to have a new budget in place by June 5 in order to meet the requirements of publishing legal notices two weeks and one week before the election. The board is also required to hold a public hearing on the new budget one week before the revote. The public hearing will be held on Tuesday, June 12, starting at 6 p.m. at the high school.

In their budget discussion, the board learned that a zero-percent budget would be $500,000 less than the current budget. A two-percent budget would require an additional $721,000 be cut from the defeated budget. The board also faced the possibility of not getting the hoped for $150,000 in special education savings because of pending placements.

Board president Vinnie Rizzi commented that, “This budget vote showed me that this community is very divided.” He said he is concerned about putting up for a vote a budget that will still require 60 percent of the voters to approve it. However, since the current year’s tax cap for Highland is only .87 percent as determined by the state formula, the board would be challenged to present a budget meeting the cap without making deep cuts in personnel and educational programs, such as high school AP courses. Board members all agreed that a new budget could not exceed a 2 to 2.5 percent increase. This would require a 60 percent voter approval, but as Lori Ward said in public comment, it would seem to be an effort to get to the two percent tax levy cap that the state has imposed on most all other school districts.

In her comments, Superintendent Deborah Haab said that the board should consider additional debt service and accrual funds as part of revenue to help offset cuts. She cautioned however that the board should not use a significant amount all at one time.

In public comments, some people asked that Kindergarten be taken off the table as a possible cut once and for all and not continue to be used as a scare tactic and a weapon. Board member Sue Gilmore agreed. Even though Kindergarten is not yet mandated by the state, it is educationally considered a grade with a curriculum that prepares students for the work they will be required to do in the first grade. Other people asked what had happened to the 4.75 percent budget that the board had long considered as their proposed budget.

Some people made suggestions on cuts the board should consider, including combining the positions of transportation and building and grounds directors, turning all but one of the library specialists into librarians to save on salaries, cutting out the sports laundry, reducing the number of nurses, cutting the position of assistant superintendent and one of the assistant principals, and consolidating music and art. One speaker pointed out that comparing the number of administrators to neighboring districts is not helpful because other districts have more than one and smaller elementary schools.

Highland’s elementary school has nearly 1,000 students, whereas the smaller elementary schools in Marlboro have only a couple hundred students. Most all speakers agreed that the teachers must come forward with concessions. The board responded that some of the suggestions are not possible because of state regulations, especially in special education, and that the teachers’ contract is not due for renegotiation until next year.

Some people complained that the board did not discuss the exit survey voters were asked to fill out on May 15. The board said that the survey did not need to be interpreted as it clearly showed how people felt about the budget. There was disappointment expressed that not many “no” voters left a comment on why they had voted against the budget. The results of the exit survey are available on the district web site.

Before the meeting ended, board member Al Barone said he was concerned that the community did not have accurate information when considering the budget. In reference to comments he has heard from voters, he said that administrators do not get “perks” except for the use of a cell phone dedicated to school business, that the district is not hosting a Middletown band for free (all school buildings have a published use fee), and that employees do not get summer unemployment benefits.

The board will be meeting again on Wednesday, May 30, to examine a new two percent budget.

By Teri Jones

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