Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative schools public hearing set

WILTON – Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School District officials are calling the current budget deficit an “underfunding,” but those who attended a public hearing on Nov. 24, called it an error and poor management on the part of officials, and wanted to know why, and how it had happened.

One resident demanded an apology. “I haven’t heard an apology or even a regret from the board. You put us in this position,” Charlie Post of Lyndeborough said.

About 60 people attended the hearing held in the high school cafeteria.

The hearing, required prior to a special district meeting to be held on Nov. 9, was led by Board Chairman Matt Ballou and Superintendent Bryan Lane.

Ballou said, in order for the district to use $184,811 in state funds, the district has to vote to use it for deficit reduction. An additional $102,00 in special education aid cannot be used for any other purpose. Another hearing will be held to accept those funds.

Ordinarily, the state funds woul-d be returned to the towns to reduce taxes. Without those funds, the tax rates in both towns will go up, tax bills will be delayed until after the November hearing, and both towns will experience a year-end cash flow problem.

Lane said the $305,352 deficit was caused by several areas not being budgeted. “They were known expenses and should have been budgeted,” he said and added, “42 percent of the deficit was caused by changes in health care.”

The current budget has been frozen allowing only contracted obligations plus safety and student concerns. Athletics, field trips and graduation expenses are not affected. No new equipment will be purchased.

Ballou said, “We’ll be keeping a close eye on expenditures no matter what is decided.”

A specific line will be created in the budget to ensure funds are spent only as directed. The school district cannot hold funds as towns do – all unexpended money must be returned.

Lyndeborough Selectman Chairman Mark Chamberlain explained his town’s problem. “Our obligations through the end of the year are just under a million dollars and we expect (to bring in) $800,000” because of delaying the tax bills by three weeks. “We have to delay some payments.” As for the December school bill, “we’ll pass it along when we have the cash.” The town, he said, “has struggled to maintain the tax rate. We don’t want to ask the taxpayers for more money and would like your group to do the same thing – consider people on fixed incomes who don’t have anyone in the schools. How do you explain this to them?”

Having a forensic audit done was asked for by several people, the need for an outside person with no connection to the school.

Board members said there wasn’t money to hire one, Lane said an audit would be done. No time frame was given.

Former Board Member Harry Dailey said he was concerned about the lack of communication. “There needs to a clear memorandum of understanding with the two towns. You knew your hiring budget, you should have alerted both towns. It is costing the towns more money. Wilton has already pre-paid (one month).”

Several asked when the school board knew about the deficit and when they told the towns. Lane said it came up in “late August” but they didn’t communicate the deficit “until the first part of October.”

Budget Committee member Adam Lavallee said they did not have accurate figures and asked why. “Someone has to be held accountable. Who is going to do the oversight? People want to know. We need a plan for that on Nov. 9.”

Lane said again it was “a budgeting error. We thought it could be covered with a grant. Some items weren’t in the budget and that was a mistake. Some estimates were too low. You can’t predict changes in medical plans.” He said he took full responsibility.

It was noted that this is a contract year, and those contracts are voted separately at the annual meeting.

Lisa Post of Lyndeborough said, “The board needs to get nu, under control We need to change our way of thinking, and give the kids the best education we can afford.”

The hearing on Nov. 9 will begin at 9 a.m. in the high school cafeteria.