‘Unintended Consequences’ Noted on SAU Budgeting

“Unintended consequences” are changing the way the budget is handled for the School Administrative Unit 55 board.

Last year voters approved pulling the School Administrative Unit (SAU) 55 budget out of the individual town budgets and leaving it a stand-alone budget. SAU 55 is composed of the Hampstead and Timberlane School Districts; Timberlane includes Sandown, Danville, Plaistow and Atkinson.
On last year’s School District warrants, the article, submitted by Jorge Mesa-Tejada of Hampstead, asked voters of school districts within SAU 55 to adopt insertion of the SAU budget as a separate warrant article at the annual school district meeting. Hampstead voters opposed it, but the Timberlane towns voted for it, and with the aggregate number in favor, it was approved.
At the SAU board’s Wednesday, Oct. 9 meeting, district Business Manager George Stokinger told the board employee insurance would be increasing from $195,000 to $287,764. This is the first of what officials termed “unintended consequences” of changing how the SAU 55 budget is handled.
He explained that because it is a relatively small budget, less than $1.5 million, as compared to the $62 million Timberlane budget, the SAU must budget enough money to cover all of its employees’ insurance, even though only a few take the coverage. In other words, in order to cover the exposure liability, there must be enough money to pay for all the employees, should they decide to take the coverage.
Another unintended consequence is the need to build a default budget. Board member Jason Cipriano of Hampstead noted that the odds are when voters see the default is lower than the budget, they will vote for the default, and salary increases would likely take a hit.
Stokinger also pointed out that during the recruitment search for a new superintendent that resulted in the hiring of Earl Metzler, the SAU budget didn’t have sufficient funds and the decision was made to use funds from the Timberlane budget.
Asked what would happen to money budgeted but not used, Stokinger said those funds would go back to the SAU and the districts.
The apportionment of the budget between the Hampstead and Timberlane districts will be adjusted but Stokinger said it would not be significant. An increase in the technology line was questioned and Stokinger said this refers to the financial system software and certain hardware that Timberlane supplies to the SAU, but which has to be reimbursed by the SAU.
Hampstead’s Greg Hoppa said it will be important for the SAU Board and the individual School Boards to clarify the budget changes and their impact to the public. He said the budget is higher as an unintended consequence.
Hoppa said the new way of handling the budget takes away the executive power of the SAU Board to give merit raises for SAU employees, and said in the long run that will undermine the SAU’s effort to retain top notch employees.
The next budget meeting will be Oct. 23, with a public hearing set for Nov. 13.
In other business:
• Metzler and Assistant Superintendent Roxanne Wilson reviewed their individual goals and showed how they aligned with the individual district strategic goals. The goals focus on ways to enhance teaching and learning, with an emphasis on the service and leadership the Central Office can provide the districts and individual schools, staffs, and school boards.
• Stokinger reviewed the refunds that have been received from the New Hampshire Local Government Center (LGC). Hampstead received $350,000, Timberlane $1.54 million, and the SAU $22,000, as well as $128,765 for retirees.
The revenue that comes to the district will go to surplus. Stokinger asked for patience, saying it is a very labor intense job figuring out who gets what. The SAU is just finishing up retirees and will be dealing with employees next. He added there is a possibility there will be an additional refund for 2012 but that isn’t clear at this point. The money received relates to years 2010 and 2011 medical and dental accounts.

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