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Selectmens Meeting Minutes - 03-20-2012
Nathan Media Center
Fuller Meadow School
March 20, 2012
8:00 PM
Call to Order – Chairperson Houten called the meeting to order at 8:07.  Present: Mr. Cresta, Ms. Jones, Ms. Lindberg, Mr. Prentakis, and Town Administrator Mr. Singer,
Approval of MinutesMr. Prentakis made a motion and was seconded by Ms. Jones to read and initial the minutes of the March 13, 2012 meeting to indicate their acceptance. The motion carried 5-0-0.
Approval of Warrants - The Board approved a Payroll Warrant in the amount of $98,347 and a Payables Warrant in the amount of $325,924 of which $161,819 is for purchase of power and $21,556 is for repairs to the slate roof of the Library which was damaged by last year’s storms.  100% of this expense will be covered by insurance.
Town Administrator’s Report
        The DPW Superintendent has made a recommendation for the placement of the Middleton Youth Baseball Association shed.  Final action should be taken at the next regular Board of Selectmen’s meeting.  The site plan will be in the next packet.
        The details of the assessment for the North Shore Vocational Technical High School have been received.  Middleton has one additional student.
Scholarship Committee AppointmentMr. Prentakis made a motion to appoint Mr. John McAuley Jr. to the Scholarship Committee for a term to end June 30, 2014.  Ms. Jones seconded the motion and all were in favor.
Review of Masconomet Budget – The Selectmen were joined by:
Daryl Lockwood, Masconomet Superintendent of Schools,
Susan Givens, Masconomet Chief Financial Officer,
Teresa Buono, Rodney Pendleton and Linda Richards, Middleton’s representatives to the Masconomet School Committee, and
Steve Cocciardi and John Erickson of the Middleton Finance Committee and John Powell of the Boxford Finance Committee.
        Mr. Houten opened the meeting by expressing his desire to get back to working together with Masconomet.  Dr. Lockwood explained that the Masconomet budget had been available since February 14th.  The budget is up 2.2%.  However the assessments are up 3.5%, due to reductions in revenue.  In particular State reimbursement for regional transportation is down and the circuit breaker is always less than hoped.  Though overall enrollment is down, certain special needs students are coming in to 7th grade and will need additional services.  Middleton is seeing a reduction in its elementary school budget as a result of this shift.
        Dr. Lockwood went over the increases in personnel.  They are:
_       a Technology Coordinator,
_       a .6 Technology technician,
_       a .2 Business Department head,
_       a .4 Health and Physical Education Department Head,
_       1.6 Special Education tutors (1 at the High School, .6 at the Middle School),
_       2.5 Special Education teachers (2 of which are in response to the shift in population), and
_       a .4 English Language Learner (ELL) teacher because even though there is a small population, the school was found to be out of compliance during a State review.
        FY ’13 is also the highest year of the current teacher contract with a cost of living increase of 3% in addition to steps.  This has been mitigated by the School Committee’s vote to allow adoption of a GIC look-alike health plan.  When they first looked at the budget, they looked at a worst case of a 12% increase in health insurance costs.  This would have been around a $1.9 million increase.  With the adoption of this plan, they are budgeting for a $600,021 increase.  He concluded by stating that he feels that Masconomet has come in with a budget that is reasonable while continuing to provide the quality of education the community expects..  Masconomet is below the state average in cost per pupil.  The annual cost per pupil is about $1000 more than that of the elementary school.  This is because of increased costs for guidance and special education.
        Dr. Lockwood said that he has found the legislative delegation to be quite helpful.  A recent situation arose where private schools were raising their tuition in mid-year.  He brought this up with Senator Tarr who attempted to address the situation.  
        Dr. Lockwood did report that Masconomet is not anticipating any increase in activity fees.  He pointed out that the families currently pay 60% of putting an athlete on the field and of any other activities.
        Mr. Houten pointed out that the three Towns will have to present the Masco budget to the Towns.  The problem is that the Committees don’t understand the budget.  There have been requests to see it as spreadsheet.  Dr. Lockwood said that there are spreadsheets in the background of the word document, and that they have been sent to Mr. Singer.  He has also invited anyone to come into the Superintendent’s Office to see them there and discuss them.  No one has come, and now he is receiving this Freedom of Information Act request.  He is surprised since the budget is at the target number.
        Mr. Cresta said that he thinks a lot of problems could be avoided if this meeting was held at the beginning of the budget process.  He understands that the Regional School Committee works under a different set of rules than the Town and the Elementary School Committee.  He also expressed his appreciation of the fact that the Masco budget is within the target.
        Mr. Houten said that the Committees would like to know how Masconomet is allocating money.  Dr. Lockwood pointed out that Masconomet puts all their quarterly reports and audit reports on their website.  He has worked in a number of school districts and none have provided the information that Masconomet provides.  In addition, the Masconomet School Committee asks many questions of the administration and analyzes the budget.  Anyone is welcome to that information.  He has discussed with Mr. Singer how he develops budgets for the Town.  He gave a health insurance example, where Mr. Singer develops a spreadsheet based on assumptions about how many employees will want coverage.  Dr. Lockwood said that he can answer questions like this but that level of detail is not in spreadsheets.
        Mr. Pendleton had a copy of the annual budget request which each department head submits in October.  It includes ideas for cost containment.  This is the basis for the teaching budget.  Other (non-teaching) budget items are standard from year to year and must be paid.  The School Committee goes over these and asks many questions to justify budget requests.
        Ms. Jones said that in the past the Selectmen and Finance Committee have met with the Masconomet Administration and with the legislative delegation early in the process.  Dr. Lockwood replied that now it seems they are all having the meetings but having then separately.
        Mr. Prentakis asked about staffing changes during the school year.  He noted that last year’s Full Time Equivalents (FTEs) were budgeted at 242.26 but the actual was 243.8.  This year’s budget is 247. Dr. Lockwood explained that during the school year, situations can arise that require additional staffing.  A child who needs a one-on-one may move into the district in mid-year.  A discipline problem may mean a student needs a “shadow” in order to be re admitted to the school.  Last year, a non-English speaking student moved into the district.  This required additional ELL support.  The Administration goes to the School Committee for permission to post the position and finds a way to make it work within the budget.  This is all done very publically.  Mr. Cresta added that this is why schools have line item autonomy.
        Mr. Prentakis noted that in 2007, Masco had 100 more students and 15 fewer FTEs.  He asked how this was justified.  Dr. Lockwood replied that part of it was the growth in Special Education and part of it is the growth in Advanced Placement and the offering of additional foreign language options.  This is in response to the wants of the community.  These classes may have smaller populations.  They do have the conversation about staffing.  They no longer ever run a class with less than 14 students and a number of electives have been scheduled to be offered in alternate years.
        Mr. Prentakis asked if expenses paid for by grants are included as part of the budget.  Dr. Lockwood replied that they are kept separate for accounting purposes.  Ms. Givens said that they are in a special revenues section that begins on page 54 of the budget book.  However, Dr. Lockwood added the staff, including positions funded by grants, is all listed together on page 14 because that is how the School Committee wants to see it.  They used to be listed separately.
        Mr. Cocciardi said that there seems to be a difference of opinion about what information the Finance Committees can get.  They have asked for the spreadsheets that back up the information from early on.  Mr. Cocciardi gave a history of the interactions between Masconomet and the Finance Committees.  He feels that the information has been refused.  He spent a long time with the budget this past weekend and feels he understands it though there are discrepancies.  Dr. Lockwood responded that the reason he asks them why they want the information in the hopes that he can produce a readily available report that will answer the questions.  The request was not refused.  Rather the School Committee instructed the Administration to contact the member of the Boxford School Committee and invite him in for a discussion.  Dr. Lockwood said there are differences in the budget but not discrepancies as termed by Mr. Cocciardi.  He feels that he has explained this many times and doesn’t feel that he can explain it any more.
        Mr. Prentakis reiterated that the issue is what information and in what format is appropriate.  The District agreement says that the budget shall be presented in reasonable detail.  He says that to him reasonableness includes the format.  The Finance Committees and Masconomet need to agree on what and how.  If they can’t agree they need to find a third party such as Department of Education Best Practices.
        Mr. Singer added that the Masco budget is a program budget with some supporting information.  It does not have the detail that the FinCom is used to seeing.  He also noted that no one is ready for early meetings.  Statutory deadlines force the process into a ten week period.
        Dr. Lockwood said that each of the three Finance Committees differs in their data requests.  For example:  Topsfield requested end of year summaries and five years of these summaries were provided.  Mr. Mercier of Boxford wanted transaction analysis and asked for the general ledger.  Mr. Prentakis said that this is why the four committees (three finance and Masco School) need to get together and decide on a format.
        Mr. Erickson said that they would like the spreadsheets behind the numbers.  The Finance Committees like to use zero based budgeting.  He asked if Masco comes up with a number or do they count up the components.  He gave as an example $45,000 for art department consumables.  Does someone add up the gallons of paint etc. that it takes to run the art department?  Mr. Pendleton said that the department head requests that he has referred to don’t include numbers.  The numbers are not available until they are a year old.  Mr. Erickson reiterated his belief that there must be spreadsheets that roll up into the budget.  They would like to see information such as how many people are budgeted to be on the various health plans.  He can get information like that about the elementary school budget directly from the Town Administrator.  They want to see that that information exists for Masconomet and they want to see how it goes up and down.
        Mr. Cocciardi said that he feels that Boxford and Middleton want the same information.  He will go back to Topsfield to make sure they are on the same page.  Mr. Erickson said that the information they want must be there to create these documents.  He said that the Finance Committee would take the data in raw form.  It is hard to stand up and defend the budget if the Finance Committee has not gotten the detail.
        Mr. Powell added there is a fundamental difference in how the budgets are developed.  The Masco budget is a narrative.  The Finance Committee would like to see a financial statement with a narrative to support it.
        Mr. Cresta said that he understands that the budgets are developed differently.  The approval of the Masco budget comes through the School Committee.  A lot of the Town’s budget items don’t change.  Those that do are often out of the Town’s control such as contractual agreements.  The FinCom spends a lot of time on the budget.  If they had the information early, then we wouldn’t get to this confrontational stage.
        Mr. Pendleton has been through four budgets processes.  He has slowly built up confidence in the Department Heads. The School Committee is very satisfied with the administration and with the educational issues.  Mr. Houten agreed that the School Committee should be concerned about education.  The Finance Committee should be concerned about the money.
        Dr. Lockwood brought up inflammatory comments which don’t come from the School.  He pointed out that the School is audited in many different ways.  He asked that the Finance Committee and Selectmen be cautious about the message that they are sending to the community.  The School Committee reviews these items.  That is what they are elected to do.  He gave an example of a school committee member asking for a breakdown on textbook expenditures.  The Finance Office provided a breakdown by department of what was spent each year.  Dr. Lockwood asked Mr. Erickson is that was what he wanted.  Mr. Erickson said that he wanted it for this year.  The question used to be “Is the School budget on target or not?”  He added that now that it is on target, the conversation has changed and he doesn’t know what else the Finance Committees want.
        Mr. Prentakis suggested that everyone get together to decide on what reasonable detail is.  Mr. Cocciardi said that he would work with the other Finance Committees to come up with a recommendation and present it to Masco.  Mr. Prentakis pointed out that reasonable can’t be defined by either the Finance Committees or Masconomet.  The four bodies have to come up with the plan.
        Ms. Jones recalled the days when she was Middleton Finance Committee liaison to the Masconomet School Committee.  She said that she used to get all the information the School Committee got.  She asked if the FinComs get the same book as the School Committee members.  Dr. Lockwood said that they did.  She noted that the book she used to get was much larger and more detailed.  Mr. Houten said that what he sees is that the budget says that the payroll is budgeted at $2.8 million.  The Finance Committees want to know how many people and what they make.  The budget says durable goods.  The Finance Committee wants to know what durable goods are.  Mr. Erickson agreed.  He asked if those documents existed.  Dr. Lockwood said they did.  He asked if he could have them.  Dr. Lockwood said they would be available to the three Finance Committees.
        Mr. Cocciardi would like the elected Selectmen to be the mediators.  He feels that they should speak on behalf of the voters.  
        Mr. Singer made a suggestion for the Capitol Plan.  He feels that Masco has come a long way in capital planning and now has a comprehensive capital improvement plan which looks at the physical plant.  But what is in the budget book is only 1 ½ pages with a referral to a link on the webpage.  He would like to see it all in the book.  He feels the Capitol Plan needs to be connected with the operating budget.  He would like to know what is the total of the capital items approved for this year.
        Mr. Houten said that he would like the three Finance Committees write a letter to Masco.  Mr. Prentakis said he would do it a little differently.  He would like the four bodies to collaborate to come up with a budget book format.  Ms. Givens countered that there are standards.  She feels that the place to start is to look at the standards and see how Masco’s budget process compares.
        Dr. Lockwood pointed out that there was a day when Masco’s finances were not in order.  Large budget books were produced with every transaction but no one read them.  There has been a great deal of give and take over the years in developing the format.  Now the school is being asked for something very different.
        Mr. Prentakis brought up the Department of Revenue standards for Regional School Districts.  It says that they should provide actual expenditures.  Ms. Givens said that they provide three years of actuals, current year to date and proposed figures.  They publicize more than the Towns do.  She adds that Masco does meet and exceed the standards.
        Ms. Richards observed that it seems that between the actual, the budgeted, the proposed and the audited statements, you feel that the budget is till insufficiently cross referenced and not integrated enough to be credible.  This leads you to need to know that the Art Department is buying paint brushes and not garden hoses.  Mr. Houten said we need to know that they are not paying a teacher with that line item.  Dr. Lockwood interjected that that would be illegal.
        Mr. Cresta says that he knows that School Departments are required to have audits that Towns don’t have.  He doesn’t want anyone to believe that there is anything underhanded.  All of these audits have allowed the School Committee to be comfortable with the budget.  However, the Finance Committee wants more information.  Mr. Cocciardi added that he believes that Masco does do a competent job of handling finances.  The question is the amount of detail they want.
        Mr. Singer pointed out that adopted budgets are show in the budget book but not expended.  Dr. Lockwood said that is a report that can be produced with the push of a button and that it has been given out to the Finance Committee members who requested it.
        Mr. Singer added that budgets are fluid processes.  As individuals come to the Finance Committee, they may want to see different things.  Ms. .Givens countered that that is why there are standards.  We provide all this information to our School Committee.  Mr. Houten said that people might ask for things that you are not required to provide by the standards.
        Mr. Houten closed by expressing his appreciation for the work that all the Boards do.
Other Business
        Ms. Lindberg said that the Planning Board will be having the public hearing for the zoning articles.  She wanted to know if a third one had come in.  Mr. Singer said that it had not.
        Mr. Singer reminded the Board that the Joint Public Hearing on the Budget would be Thursday.
Adjournment – Mr. Cresta made a motion to adjourn the meeting.  All were in favor and the meeting was adjourned at 9:53
Respectfully submitted,
Mary Jane Morrin                
Mary Jane Morrin, Recording Secretary
Nancy Jones, Clerk