After questions, SAD 44 budget passes with ease
About 60 voters turned out Tuesday and questioned SAD 44 Supt. Dave Murphy about administrative costs, unexpended balances and other items, but in the end they easily passed the proposed $10.3 million school budget.
The one article that required a secret ballot – the question on raising $1,065,767 in additional local funds – passed 49-7.
The budget, which represents a 3.8 percent increase in the average local share, goes next to validation referendum in each town on June 11.
As he has at recent School Board and selectmen’s meetings, Murphy began Tuesday's meeting by reiterating the administration’s intent to address the recent “F” grade given to Telstar High School and Andover Elementary School by the state.
There were no specific questions about the grades from residents at the meeting.
But some did want to know why the district spends more per pupil than the state average.
Murphy said that is not unusual in small school systems.
“If you’re running your own school system and you have any type of administration whatsoever, that amount is going to get divided by a smaller number of students than if you have a much larger school system,” he said.
Murphy added that 12 years ago Central Office costs (including his office, the School Board, and legal costs) were about $320,000, compared to a figure of $399,000 for next year.
He also said there are two full-time principals in SAD 44, one at THS and one at Telstar Middle School. In addition, he said, there is a dean of students at THS, a position that deals more directly with students than the principal does, and also works with social workers and other support people on student issues. He likened the job in some ways to a vice principal.
There are two teaching principals at the elementary level who split their time between instruction and administration. He also said administration costs include secretarial positions and supplies.
Murphy was also questioned on the last of the 18 articles voted upon – authorization to transfer $500,000 from unexpended balances to the School Capital Reserve Fund.
“We have a reserve fund that builds up over a period of time,” he said. “Our budgets are developed in April and May, and we have to give our best guess as to the money we have available in carryover, and we also cannot overexpend our budget, so over a period of time, our reserve, or the unexpended balance, grows to a certain amount.”
Prior to Tuesday’s vote that amount was about $1 million, he said, and a good part of that had accumulated in one year, about three years ago.
“There was one year we only carried over about $130,000,” he said. “Frankly I didn’t trust the numbers that I had, and I wasn’t willing to take the gamble, so that particular year, between a combination of revenue and carryover, we had a good chunk of that amount.”
Last year, he said, the unexpended amount was in the range of $20,000.
He also stressed that voter approval is needed to put the funds into the Capital Reserve Fund, as well as to expend it when the time comes.
Murphy added that the School Board’s Finance Committee is considering for next year a built-in warrant article that would allow up to a certain amount to be spent on a recommended specific expense.
The meeting, moderated by Wendy Hanscom of Newry, concluded in an hour.