Chariho School Parents’ Forum

January 24, 2008

My “Duh” moment (#2)

Filed under: bond,Budget — Editor @ 11:47 pm

I’ll admit that school committee involvement has a steep learning curve.  An earlier “duh” was when I realized that 1/3 split was not really any where near 1/3 when it comes to what an actual taxpayer pays.  Today I had another.

During the bond campaign, the sense of urgency was expressed because we had to get that 56% reimbursement.  It was also reported in the Chariho Times that all of our Reps and Senators “encouraged passage of the bond” for that same reason. 

As we were debating the budget this evening, it occurred to me that we get that 56% whether we use the money in a bond or in the budget.  Yes, if we passed a bond we would lock in that reimbursement rate, but we would also lock ourselves out of any chance for equitable funding until that bond is retired.

The only changes that we are currently aware of (and these were reported by Mr. Ricci) are those designed to avoid excessive construction and encourage maintenance.  As an example, they will only allow space based on a per pupil ratio.  This could be a very important issue for a RYSE building as the specs claim  it is for 100 students yet we have about half that enrolled.

So the urgency for the 56% doesn’t seem to have the same zip. 

As an aside – I did ask each Rep and Senator a question after the Omnibus meeting – (paraphrased) – ‘with over a half billion deficit, why would you be encouraging the school committee to pass a “band-aid bond” when we are finally getting to the point that they are looking at (not yet doing) real contract reforms?   Senator Algiere explained that he was not taking a position on the bond and simply reporting the condition at the State House in different scenarios.  Senator Breene explained that he represented all three towns and as such was there as a facilitator to what that body requested (not an enviable position).  Representatives Walsh and Kennedy did not respond. 

I also asked John Craig to clarify the incongruity with his historic opposition to equalized funding and his comments made at the Omnibus.  He too did not respond but I think there has been subsequent reporting that indicates we could have misunderstood his intent making those comments. 

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23 Comments »

  1. Mr. Felkner are you saying that at this current time, if we make any capital improvements using money from the operational budget, it would qualify for the 56% reimbursement?

    WOW, this is big. The School Committee and the local media has touted the 56% as the main reason we should approve a bond. I hope people are paying attention. Just one more example of the lies, misrepresentations, and distortions put forth by the Chariho sychophants and leeches.

    I wasn’t aware that you ever thought a 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 financing split was equitable. Glad you figured out that Charlestown taxpayers barely feel a pin prick when Chariho spending goes through the roof.

    Comment by Curious Resident — January 25, 2008 @ 12:10 am | Reply

  2. I understand his comment to mean that the 56% is applied to both the budget and the bond, too. I would ask, if the funding formula is changed or they decide to cut state aid to education, that isn’t the 56% more fluid for the budget than if it was earmarked for the bond?

    Also, who could argue this. If the state agreed to the bond reimbursement as they say they would, what is stopping them from making the state aid cuts against the budget instead? (Like robbing Peter to pay Paul)

    What do you think?

    Comment by Lois Buck — January 25, 2008 @ 7:21 am | Reply

  3. Either way, cities and towns, and school districts lose out, right?

    Comment by Lois Buck — January 25, 2008 @ 7:22 am | Reply

  4. I would think the state is free to do as they please. If they reimburse us at 56% for a bond, then they very well might consider this when deciding on annual education aid. This would kill the town since the aid goes to the town and not to the school.

    Ultimately, the pro-bond side argument that we should pass a bond simply because we can be reimbursed still doesn’t hold water if the spending is foolish. I could care less if the state would reimburse us 100% if the money is to be for things that are not needed. I get no pleasure from wasting local money or state money. No one should want to take money based on its availability. If we are not going to spend it responsibly, then we shouldn’t take it.

    Comment by Curious Resident — January 25, 2008 @ 8:44 am | Reply

  5. Yes, they certainly could cut the reimbursement to either or both. But just about all the items (sans new construction) that were in the bond are in the 5-year budget plan (still getting the 56% reimbursement – remember, the 60% is just for new construction). And those numbers (I assume) were set with the understanding of the tax cap (meaning that we are able to complete the projects within the budget growth caps). yes, this will put tremendous pressure on the budget – but that is the idea. We will never truly reform contracts without this pressure.

    Comment by Bill Felkner — January 25, 2008 @ 10:36 am | Reply

  6. I do agree with Bill here and we spoke about this somewhat last night. The cap will make our budgets more cost effective. We beat ourselves up last night trying to figure out a way to cut surplus and the bottom line on the budget, without putting oursevles in a hole starting the budget process next year, while also trying to get more improvements done. I am sure Bill will agree it wasn’t a pretty site. My understanding of the reimbursement is that if it did come from the bond, it would be locked in as of right now 56%/%60. We do get the same % on capital improvements in the budget, but the reimbursement rates differ with what the state sets so you wouldn’t know if it would be more or less from year to year.

    But here is one for you, The state has informed us that we need to have a new 5 year plan and submit it to them for next year. We have to hire an outside contractor to come in and give us their prospective on what needs to be done in the buildings for repairs and or up keep. This is mandated by the state. This is something we had to put into the budget last night and will cost us in the tune of $75 thousand to do. Bill Day suggested we not put it in the budget and just fight the state; great idea but we don’t have a choice. If we don’t budget for it we have to find the money somewhere when it needs to be done. So another great idea from the state, lets make the schools pay for another mandate. You want to fight, we need to fight the state. We need to demand that they start to give reimbursements on the funded mandates and try to fight what is unfunded. We have work to do as a school committee, no one last night disagreed with that but when you try to work on a budget that will work for the tax payers and the state throws these mandates out there and doesn’t fund them, it makes it a that much tougher to do.

    Comment by Bob Petit — January 25, 2008 @ 11:13 am | Reply

  7. Any discussion about the huge increase in Teacher’s Aides salaries? And I’m not looking for Mr. Ricci’s feeble excuse that the budget item was transferred from Teacher’s Assistants to Aides. Special Education teachers salaries are going down by roughly the same amount at Teacher’s Assistants (which makes sense), so the increase in Teacher’s Aides is an increased budget item, not a transfer. Even if Mr. Ricci was telling the truth (which is highly doubtful), Teacher’s Aides salaries are increasing far more than Teacher’s Assistants salaries are decreasing. Why?

    As for an outside contractor being mandated…I couldn’t be happier. With Chariho trying to spend millions more of our dollars on repairs and expansion, I don’t think $75,000 is a high price to pay to eliminate wasteful proposals. I imagine Mr. Day and his cohorts are very worried about the recommendations of an outside contractor versus the recommendations of the Chariho sycophants on the Building Committee. I only hope that the outside contractor is not somehow tied to Chariho and he/she truly is an objective voice. Think of this as a contruction study…similar to the management study.

    As for it being an unfunded mandate, that is silly. The state reimburses schools for contruction and renovation. You want Chariho to spent millions in state money. Doesn’t the state have a right to make sure the money is being spent on legitimate needs? If you don’t want the state having input on what needs to be done, don’t take our money from the state.

    Mr. Felkner I think you have it backwards. I believe the reimbursement rate is 60% for renovations and 56% for new construction. The state is looking to motivate schools to fix rather than replace.

    Consider this, the bond proposed $15.4 million for the High School work. Now we know a lot of spending is unnecessary, but even assuming it was all legitimate, with a 56% reimbursement from the state, the cost to the district is $8.6 million. The surplus this year was $6 million. Based on the budget surplus of the past few years, we could have funded all the work needed at the High School and we could be beginning to address the Elementary Schools. If the School Committee and Chariho’s administration hadn’t been focusing on tricking the taxpayers and keeping information secret, they could have already completed the work they claim is desperately needed.

    I look forward to the report from the outside evaluator. Why would anyone approve a construction/renovation bond before getting their hands on this impending report?

    Comment by Curious Resident — January 25, 2008 @ 12:14 pm | Reply

  8. Bob is dead on – worse yet, we can apply for state reimbursement when the state hits us with an unfunded mandate but we have not done so. Holly Eaves seems to be on this one and should make sure that mistake doesn’t happen in the future.

    Comment by Bill Felkner — January 25, 2008 @ 12:15 pm | Reply

  9. I’m no fan of mandates. Funded or unfunded. I prefer control of schools be local, but since in the case of construction and renovations we expect the state to reimburse us to the tune of millions of dollars, then I do not agree it is an unfunded mandate.

    I guess if we were to pay for the study and then not receive construction money from the state, then it would be unfunded. Maybe the state should have payback for the evaluation when a district doesn’t receive construction aid in a five year period?

    Comment by Curious Resident — January 25, 2008 @ 12:23 pm | Reply

  10. As to Chariho mistakenly leaving mandate money on the table, perhaps if the committee and administration didn’t try to hide everything, there would be more eyes making sure things like this don’t get overlooked? I realize that many politicians think an informed public is a threat, but believe it or not, we can be helpful too…especially when it’s our money being wasted.

    Comment by Curious Resident — January 25, 2008 @ 12:27 pm | Reply

  11. If the conversation was correct, Sen Piava-Weed said only 10 districts applied for reimbursement. I know, I know, just because everyone messed up doesn’t mean its ok. Just telling you the facts. I think Holly will make sure we are one of the few – she seemed very motivated about this. But it should also be noted (as was by Ricci) that the current state budget proposal does not allocate funds to pay those reimbursements. We would have to apply and if not paid, take the state to court.

    I have not seen anything about the inspections so can’t speak to the value – but it is likely that Kastle Boos will win the bid. They have worked pro bono for years trying to get the bond project – they know everything already so it would be difficult for a competitor to come in as cheaply as Kastle could (explained by Brian Stanley).

    Comment by Bill Felkner — January 25, 2008 @ 12:36 pm | Reply

  12. Sorry to hear it will likely be Kastle Boos. They have an obvious financial incentive to reach certain conclusions. Leave it to the government to mandate a contruction evaluation and allow the evaluating company to then bid on the work. This would never happen in private industry. It is ripe for corruption or at least biased reporting.

    Comment by Curious Resident — January 25, 2008 @ 12:47 pm | Reply

  13. Hey, where’s the disclaimer Mr. Felkner? Your masters have spoken.

    I taped the School Committee meeting hoping to hear deep and meaningful discussion of this website. In my wildest dreams, I thought they might agree to establish their own website so they too could have open communication with parents and taxpayers. How naive of me.

    Mr. Cicchetti voted against requesting Mr. Felkner prominently display a disclaimer here disavowing affiliation with the School Committe. I’m guessing Mr. Abbott voted against it too (couldn’t see him on the tape). Ms. Jennning abstained.

    All and all it was pretty amusing. If the rest of the School Committee wishes to remain in hiding and infrequently communicate with the public, that’s their choice, but you would think they’d have better things to do with their time at the meetings.

    Comment by Curious Resident — January 25, 2008 @ 1:47 pm | Reply

  14. Listening to the committee discuss Mr. Buck’s request for actual spending versus budgeted spending. The current budget format shows figures for budgeted spending in the current fiscal year (ongoing) and proposed spending for the upcoming fiscal year. The budget format does not allow for comparison of actual spending versus proposed spending for any year.

    Mr. Abbott correctly notes, at least from my perspective, that Mr. Buck is looking to compare budgeted spending against actual spending to determine where the School Committee over budgeted so we can determine how much Hopkinton taxpayers have paid into the surplus, and also what are the budget items causing the huge surpluses.

    Mr. McQuaide notes that it is important to let us know that the information is publically available. He emphasizes that the information exists and it is not hard to look for it. Mr. McQuaide claims that it would be laborious to include budgeted numbers for past years along with actual expenditures. I’m surprised that a young guy would be unaware of how simple it is to add a column of numbers to a spreadsheet. I’m no computer whiz, but I could probably do it in 3 minutes assuming the past year budgets were done on a computer. It’s a simply copy and paste operation.

    Apparently the budgeted amounts from past years might be available at the Town Hall. Mr. Cicchetti makes a motion that the committee write a letter telling Mr. Buck where he can find the publically available budget figures or, if they are not at the Town Hall, send the budgets to him.

    The School Committee agreed that it is not reasonable to expect them or the administration to reformat the budget if the information is publically available. I think they are right. I bet Mr. Buck is okay with this too. The problem remains that the School Committee doesn’t seem to understand the communication tools available to them. How are we to know what is available and what is not available if we don’t specifically ask for it?

    Were past budgets available on the Chariho website? If so, why not just leave them up there? If they weren’t available on the website, how difficult is it to put them there now? Why make everyone looking for information tie up the time of busy school and town employees?

    Every single citizen with access to the internet should be a click away from obtaining public information. Sure from time to time there may be some documents that can’t be scanned or saved onto a website, but these things would be rare and we would all understand the limitations.

    The School Committe may not know how easy it is too post documents and information onto the internet, but you can be sure the administration knows how computers work and how it would be little effort to make Chariho transparent. Take a look at Chariho’s website if you doubt their expertise. Very impressive, but it only contains the information they decide we should know. Why not put it all out there?

    I think the School Committee’s apparent ignorance of modern communication tools is an impediment to moving Chariho along in a positive direction. Ms. Serra’s desire to regulate this website is another example. Doesn’t she realize that she has the First Amendment right to start her own website and offer her own opinions until she’s blue in the face? You don’t regulate speech or put disclaimers on it. If you don’t like what is being said, then you have every right to respond and debate. Don’t try and stifle free speech please.

    I bet Mr. Felkner would allow any of the School Committee members to have their own special section on this website if they are not very good with computers and can’t start their own? This isn’t an insult…took many of us a long time to get comfortable with this medium…but instead of getting defensive when taxpayers ask for information, why not make it transparent and easy to find? This isn’t difficult, and if you aren’t hiding anything, why fight it?

    Comment by Curious Resident — January 25, 2008 @ 2:33 pm | Reply

  15. Mr. Cicchetti made a motion to send state legislators a letter of support for a number of bills which he perceived to be pro-education. The committee voted to endorse these bills.

    What is it that compels people to think spending more money on education is inherently a good thing? It is as if there is a no strings attached mentality to any money that is geared towards schools? Why is it a always a good thing to take money away from the taxpayers and send it to schools? Keep in mind that 70% to 80% of school costs is labor. Are we so sure that any labor done at a school, regardless of how redundant or unnecessary, is better than the labor done by those of us not working for the government?

    The bills Mr. Cicchetti wants to endorse may very well be blessings from God, but the knee jerk response to praise any school spending is very troubling to me, and likely the reason we are in such a big mess both locally and at the state level.

    Comment by Curious Resident — January 25, 2008 @ 2:53 pm | Reply

  16. Interesting conversation about text books. The School Committee is concerned that the community might think that budgets do not adequately address textbooks. Mr. Ricci assured the committee that textbooks are not

    Considering that the proposed budget includes an increase of over $73,000 (77%) for textbooks for staff, I would hope that textbooks for students is not a problem at Chariho. Maybe Chariho staff can pass down their used textbooks to the kids?

    Comment by Curious Resident — January 25, 2008 @ 3:05 pm | Reply

  17. Mr. Abbott asked about the math curriculum at the Elementary School. Mr. Ricci replied that they are running a “recommended” “pilot” curriculum…Scott Forsman. I am under the impression that the pilot curriculum is simply a modified TERC curriculum.

    I’d like to have this verified either way? I’d also like to know who recommended the pilot curriculum? I’d also like to know why we would choose to go with a pilot math curriculum, which implies to me another experiment, when there are several math curriculae used around the world with great success that Chariho could choose?

    Children shouldn’t have to wait for unidentified “results”. We know existing math curriculum works because the best math students in the world are taught with this successful curriculum as I type this. What is the School Committee waiting for? How many more children’s futures are you willing to jeopardize on this math experiment?

    Comment by Curious Resident — January 25, 2008 @ 3:14 pm | Reply

  18. With Mr. Petit absent from the meeting, Mr. Day asks to have a discussion of putting on the agenda in his behalf. Mr. Day says Mr. Petit is concerned about the amount of information requests coming in to Mr. Ricci from Hopkinton. Mr. Day didn’t have many details other than Mr. Petit is concerned and wants it on the agenda.

    Assuming Mr. Petit wants minimize the amount of time Mr. Ricci spends addressing the public, we are back to the lack of transparency and communication by the school and the School Committee. Simply making information readily available on the internet would likely reduce information requests greatly. No need to ask Mr. Ricci if we already have access to the information.

    Maybe Mr. Petit wants to discuss improve communication methods? That would be excellent. (I can dream.)

    Comment by Curious Resident — January 25, 2008 @ 3:19 pm | Reply

  19. Unless CHARIHO is working with a pen and paper (I am sure they are not) for the budget and expenses, they have EVERY tiny expense logged on to a computer spreadsheet. To say they can’t provide information regarding what was budgeted, what was spent, and how much was left over for EVERY line item is a LIE! Once again, they are misinforming the public. OUT WITH THESE SCOUNDRELS!

    Down the rabbit hole again! (This is like Alice in Wonderland, for sure)

    Comment by Dorothy Gardiner — January 25, 2008 @ 3:47 pm | Reply

  20. I’m sure the taxpayers with no computer knowledge will be fooled by the excuses.

    While every business going has embraced computer and internet technology to increase productivity by amazing leaps and bounds, Chariho is trying to convince us that they don’t have enough time to make full use of computers and the internet. I urge them to join the 21st Century, or to at least move up to the latter part of the 20th Century.

    Comment by Curious Resident — January 25, 2008 @ 5:50 pm | Reply

  21. Every town in Chariho shows both budgeted and actuals for the previous years. There is absolutely no reason why Chariho cannot do the same thing. While it would probably take more than 3 minutes to get the information into a spreadsheet, the budget itself does not appear to be an actual Excel type spreadsheet, looks more to me like a report from some other program. Having said that, it is probably just a matter of selecting what columns you want to appear on the report, which is even easier! The School Committee as a whole is doing nothing to give me a warm and comfortable feeling with this budget, until such time, my vote will be a “no”, along with many others that I know usually vote to approve the budget.

    Comment by CharihoParent — February 10, 2008 @ 6:20 am | Reply

  22. The best way to shut up people like me is to show us we are wrong.

    I’m thrilled to read CharihoParent will not approve a budget until the process is transparent as to where and how they are spending our money. I continue to believe Chariho wastes money in many areas. Specifically, I believe RYSE and Special Education spending far exceeds reasonable amounts. The current budget has ridiculous salary increases for Teacher’s Aides. Nobody has addressed these budget items to my knowledge?

    Chariho is currently run like a secret society. Giving money to a secret society, especially one which doesn’t even accomplish its mission very well, continues to be foolish. Chariho needs to be transparent and accountable. I don’t care if I have to say it until I’m blue in the face. People need to wake up.

    Comment by Curious Resident — February 10, 2008 @ 5:48 pm | Reply

  23. Hi!
    This is perhaps a personal obsession with me about an outside management study of Chariho but I have a question. It is this ” Do you think the omission of the outside management in the proposed Chariho School Budget especially when they have a large surplus reason enough to vote against the upcoming budget? Clearly we need to get a better handle on management on Chariho than we currently have.
    BTW Happy Valentine’s Day to the ladies!
    Regards,
    Scott

    Comment by Scott Bill Hirst — February 14, 2008 @ 5:44 pm | Reply


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