WLC school budget slashed

WILTON – On Saturday morning, voters at the annual Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School District meeting reduced the proposed budget by $411,444, leaving a total of $12,644,720. Debate on the budget lasted about three hours and included several paper ballots. The main area of contention was the retirement of the middle school bond which should have resulted in a $300,000 saving when it was paid off last year. Other proposed cuts are in administration and new equipment.

Voters also rejected a request for $30,000 for an audit of the district’s financial system from the 2017-18 year to 2019-20. They said the wording of the article was too vague and didn’t specify a “forensic audit” by an independent company.

About 250 residents of the two towns attended the almost five-hour meeting at the high school.

The budget was presented by Budget Committee Chairman Leslie Browne. She argued that this is a reorganizing year, recovering from errors made over the past two years. She said special education costs have gone up while revenue have decreased.

Budget Committee Member Kevin Boette said the committee had already removed over $111,000 in requests, eliminating the French program and cutting the librarian to half time.

Member Lisa Post said added, “When we made the decisions, we were worried if we cut, we’d have to come back.”

Residents argued that the “bond payment money belongs to the taxpayers.”

Wilton resident Ralph Bushmann said, “You have to look at needs, not wants.” Another said, “It’s time to make some difficult decisions, and we are asking you to make them.”

Superintendent Bryan Laine said, “We are changing the academic structure in the schools and that takes time. We are on the road to get (to where we want to be).”

A climate and culture program, cut from the budget, will remain as a grant-funded program.

The amendment to reduce the budget passed 135 yes to 90 no. A motion to reconsider the vote failed 142 no to 107 yes. The final vote to adopt the revised budget passed 160 yes to 82 no.

A new contract with the teachers’ association was passed by a voice vote. The contract adds $114,834 over this year and includes an average 2.7 salary increase. Health insurance costs were said to remain the same.

A request for $150,000 to be added to the schools’ building/equipment and roadway fund passed easily.

Two attempts were made to increase a $100,000 contribution to the special education reserve fund, which was depleted last year. An amendment to raise it to $300,000 failed, 130 no to 78 yes, and an increase to $200,000 failed on a voice vote.

Several said complaints about funding should be made to the government which has never fully funded the mandated special education programs.

Retiring Schoolboard Chairman Matt Ballou said the financial audit was recommended by the budget committee to determine the cause of problems last year and “to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Lisa Post said, “We really need to know. We haven’t had accurate numbers for three years.”

Budget Committee Member Bill Ryan concluded the debate with, “(Last year’s) short fall would have been worse if the (current business administrator) hadn’t brought it to our attention. I made the motion to determine what went wrong. There was no criminal activity found, just that procedures weren’t followed.” He added, “Social media has been character assassination. It’s killing our school district. Let’s work with the district.”

A request for a secret ballot was withdrawn and the article failed on a voice vote.

An appeal was made for volunteers which gather a few names.

Joyce Fisk, who retired during the year, was honored for her 40-plus years as a school board member, beginning with the Wilton Elementary School District. Ballou said her service was a record for the state.

Ballou was also recognized for his years of service on the board.