WLC voters cut $411,000 from proposed budget at Saturday’s annual school meeting

  • Hands go up while voting on an amendment to the WLC district budget during School Meeting on Saturday. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • Karon Walker proposes an amendment to the school budget, which ultimately passed and reduced the proposal by about $411,000.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • Moderator Walter Holland uses placards to demonstrate how to use the ballots prior to a ballot vote on the budget. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/8/2020 1:45:28 PM

After a contentious back and forth that took the majority of the nearly five-hour meeting, voters at the Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative District Meeting cut more than $411,000 from the proposed budget.

Residents raised protests about what they said were too many increases too quickly. The district proposed a budget of $13,056,164. In addition to increased warrant article requests, the majority of voters said the increases were too much.

Karon Walker, who proposed the amendment to lower the budget, said it was to “Force the School Board and Budget Committee to look more critically at basic areas.”

The amendment is based upon a 2 percent increase to the budget approved during March 2019, prior to additional costs approved at the November special District Meeting.

Resident Sally Curran said some proposed cuts identified during budget discussions as target areas where the budget could be slimmed, including the recently created positions of curriculum coordinator and response to instruction coordinator, and professional development training.

Budget Committee member Kevin Boette said the amended budget would directly impact the children in the district, and called the cut “arbitrary.”

Fran Bujak of Lyndeborough also argued against the amendment.

“That will not be books, or insignificant things, not even large sports programs. That will be teachers. It would be a huge mistake and put a large amount of money in our pockets at the expense of our kids and their education,” Bujak said.

Voters backed the amendment, 135 to 90, bringing the budget down to $12,644,720.

A later attempt to amend the budget back to its original number after further debate failed 142 to 107. Finally, the district took a final ballot vote to approve the amended budget 160 to 82.

The collective bargaining agreement between the district and the Teacher’s Association was less controversial. The body immediately called the question after hearing a short explanation from a representative of the School Board, and easily passed the contract in a voice vote. The contract is for a single year and guarantees $114,834 in salary and benefit increases for 60 teachers, counselors, librarians and nurses in the district. The contract stipulates salary increases of 2.7 percent, ranging between $850 and $1,700 for staff.

Voters also swiftly approved a $150,000 addition to a capital reserve for future district maintenance projects. The fund is earmarked in the current year to continue to replace the roof, renovate bathrooms and purchase a new dishwasher, all at the middle/high school.

The earlier reduction in the proposed budget became a point of contention again, however, when the district discussed a warrant article to set aside funds for unanticipated special education expenses. Currently, the fund has $46,000 in it, after the district dipped into it last year to cover special education overages, draining $170,000 from the fund.

Boette moved to amend the amount raised this year from $100,000 to $300,000, saying that with the state of the amended budget, there would be no buffer if a student who needed additional services moves into the district.

Resident Charlie Post protested that, saying that the district has the option to call a special district meeting to ask for additional funds if that eventuality arises. The amendment failed 130 to 78 in a ballot vote, and a follow-up amendment offered by Daniel Nelson of Wilton to raise $200,000 instead of $100,000 also failed to gain any traction, going down with a voice vote. However, the initial request of $100,000 passed easily in a voice vote.

The final article of the day, a request for $30,000 to conduct a financial audit of the district’s spending over the last three years was the only article voters turned down. An amendment was initially offered by Walker to require that the audit be done by a firm who hadn’t had dealings with the district, and to have it overseen by a committee made of members of the School Board and Budget Committee. Moderator Walter Holland called into question the legality of the depth of the changes being offered in the amendment, and Walker eventually withdrew her amendment.

The district voters ultimately voted down the audit in a voice vote.

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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