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A joint meeting of the boards was held March 5; education panel, at left, and finance on right. |(Mark Dionne\Town Times.)

Joint budget meeting for BOE and BOF

The Board of Education hosted the Boards of Finance from both Durham and Middlefield at its regularly scheduled meeting on March 5 at Strong Middle School.

The meeting was dominated by questions from the Board of Finance members. Those questions were of a more financially technical nature than the questions usually addressed to the BOE during budget season.

Specific questions of staffing, often the subject of questions from the public, were deferred to the BOE meeting on March 19.

“We were waiting until we have the full enrollment from the high school to tell what exact positions were going to be eliminated,” said BOE chair Kerrie Flanagan. “We’re actually deferring a discussion on the exact positions for what’s happening in the budget until the March 19th meeting.”

Flanagan said that putting off the discussion until March 19 would give the board time to analyze high school enrollment and class selection. Flanagan also deferred a discussion about changing the planned elimination of a kindergarten teaching position after a higher-than-expected kindergarten enrollment.

The discussion of staffing was already previously deferred, at the Feb. 26 meeting, until March 12.

Bob Yamartino, from Middlefield’s Board of Finance, had two suggestions for saving money in the education budget.

According to Yamartino, the district has consistently finished with a surplus in the salary line after budgeting for 100 percent of the full year teacher salaries as well as 100 percent of the potential substitute cost.

If the district uses a lot of its substitutes, Yamartino said, it is likely because a number of teachers are on leave or extended sick time, which saves money in the salary line, and if fewer teachers are on leave, the need for substitutes decreases.

The 2012-2013 audited budget had a $300,000 surplus in the salary line, which Yamartino pointed out represented three-quarters of a mill in Middlefield. “The reason I’m concerned is that if you have that kind of money, if you know there’s a surplus, the money can be spent on things that weren’t vetted through the budgeting process,” said Yamartino.

Superintendent of Schools Kathryn Veronesi said that they had been advised that funding the salary line at 100 percent was a legal obligation because of the binding contracts.

Flanagan said that the BOE would review the substitute line, but added that the surpluses in the salary line have been going down and the difference between the budget and the actual was less than one percent. Flanagan also said that substitutes would likely be used more to create professional development time for teachers learning the Common Core.

Yamartino also suggested that the district look into refinancing debt with a bank note, as Middlefield recently did with its Powder Ridge debt.

Joel Nick of Middlefield’s BOF asked if money spent on curriculum, professional development, and technology could be specified in the budget. Currently, those funds are separated by building and in lines not labeled with those areas.

Flanagan asked for the professional development numbers to be pulled together. Professional development, which Veronesi called “a tremendous area of focus for this district,” has come up frequently at BOE meetings, usually linked to Common Core training.

A discussion of cost-per-pupil led to the topic of building closure. “We’re frankly going to need help from both towns to help everybody understand that if we continue to operate in the same number of buildings with our declining enrollment we are not going to manage cost per student because we still have to educate our students,” said Flanagan.

Members also suggested the boards could cooperate to speak with a common voice at the state level.

Overall, the meeting of the three boards had a cooperative tone. Rosemarie Naples from Durham’s BOF said, “I am very impressed with what the Board of Education has changed to in the last few years. We never were able to get the information that we are getting now and we’ve never seen as many fiscally responsible people on the board as we have now.”

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