RHAM holds school budget public hearing
By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Hebron - posted Tue., Apr. 9, 2013
An April 8 public hearing on the RHAM 2013-14 school budget drew a handful of residents to the high school’s auditorium. Superintendent of Schools Bob Siminski opened the meeting with an overview of the proposed budget. Major concerns leading to the completed budget, he said, were to maintain programming, to comply with statutory requirements, to maintain technology levels, and to comply with common core standard requirements. Major factors driving the requested 3.52-percent increase, said Siminski, were negotiated salaries, health insurance costs expected to increase by more than 13 percent, magnet school tuitions, and increasing transportation costs arising from the loss of slightly over $100,000 in grant money from the state. None of these factors, said Siminski, were variables over which the district had any control. The four items total $1,088,249, a figure which the district had offset by decreases in other areas, according to Siminski. The 3.52-percent increase represents an $882,382 increase over the current fiscal year.
Siminski reminded his audience that teachers and non-certified employees received no increase in salary for FY 2012-13. The district had realized increases of less than 2 percent for four years straight, he added. The district has seen a steady increase in students leaving to attend vocational agriculture programs, magnet schools and technical programs. Tuitions for vo-ag schools and magnet schools, which the district is obligated to pay, are expected to increase to $464,472 from $338,448 for FY 2013-14, said Siminski.
Resident Brian Gracias expressed concern over the way that the budget referendum for the regional district is handled. Due to the percentage of students coming from Hebron as compared to Andover and Marlborough, Hebron will be expected to fund the vast majority of the district increase, or $952,529. Andover’s portion will actually decrease by more than $75,000, with Marlborough footing less than $6,000 of the additional funding. Andover and Marlborough can vote yes for the budget and override a no vote from Hebron, said Gracias. If Hebron students represent more than 56 percent of the population, and Hebron is expected to foot the majority of the budget increase, shouldn’t Hebron’s vote at referendum be weighted accordingly, asked Gracias.
Siminski said that the way a referendum is handled for a regional school district is decided by state statute.
Resident Dan Larson wanted to know how "Obamacare" was affecting the district’s budget. Siminski looked through his materials for a definitive answer, but couldn’t locate the document he was looking for. “I think it’s $4 per person per year,” said Siminski, but noted that this was a tentative figure.
Larson said that he was also bothered by the fact that RHAM appears to be providing students with an excellent education, judging by test scores, yet the district is required to pay tuition for students who choose to leave the district. “Why?” asked Larson.
“A lot of that goes back to Sheff vs. O’Neill,” said Siminski, explaining that tuition requirements for magnets were intended to help facilitate desegregation in public schools.
Resident Paula Verrier asked if there might be the possibility of reducing the RHAM budget further. Siminski said that he and the board had looked at making cuts, but any further reductions generally would mean cuts to staff. Board member Kevin Williams interjected to give an example. One reduction the board had considered, he said, would have increased the number students in one class from 19 to 37.
“When I look at the line items, it’s no longer clear to me what the scope or the goal for public education really is,” said Gracias. Gracias talked of a college-educated Hebron resident who had seen her pay reduced and who was looking at losing her home. He said that people could not afford another tax increase, and that he did not feel he could support the budget as it stood. “I’m just tired,” said Gracias.
Larson spoke of unfunded mandates being continually passed down by the legislature. “I would like the state and federal politicians to wake up and begin to realize that they are crucifying our towns,” he said.
The proposed FY 2013-14 RHAM budget stands at $25,944,833, representing a 3.52-percent increase. A referendum is scheduled for May 7. The budget is available on the district website at www.reg8.k12.ct.us.