WILMINGTON — Twin Valley voters will consider a $8,992,086 budget that meets the School Board’s goals of saving taxpayers money and halting a financial penalty from the state.
“It represents a lot of hard work and a lot of great decreases and I think a very exciting phase if we can stay out of the penalty box,” said Kathy Larsen, board chairwoman. “Thank you one and all.”
Her comment came at the board meeting held remotely Tuesday after the fiscal year 2022 budget was unanimously approved to be presented on the March 2 ballot. The board had asked principals from the middle/high school in Whitingham and elementary school in Wilmington, to provide spending plans that better reflect the number of students, and they came back with a decrease of about 3.4 percent or $316,959 in expenditures in the third and final draft.
No changes in programming are proposed for the schools. Anna Roth, middle/high school principal, told the Reformer some structural changes will soon be announced to the school community.
The board also wanted a strategy to stop the district from being penalized by the state for exceeding a spending threshold, which is said to be more difficult for smaller or more rural school districts to avoid. The plan involves a mix of decreasing expenditures and applying surplus money or fund balance.
Projections currently show expenditure decreases of 2 percent in FY23, 1.5 percent in both FY24 and FY25, and 1.4 percent in FY26. But Superintendent Barbara Ann Komons-Montroll warned that numbers can change.
The board decided to warn an article for the March ballot asking voters for authority to take $275,000 from the fund balance to stay out of the penalty zone and lower tax rates. Karen Atwood, business manager for Windham Southwest Supervisory Union, said Wilmington’s school tax rate is currently projected to decrease by 34 cents and Whitingham’s would drop by about 2 cents.
The district is anticipated to have more than $400,000 left in surplus after the board decided to move $100,000 to a reserve fund for maintenance and if the upcoming article passes. Last year, voters authorized the board to take an unspecified amount from the prior year’s surplus for the maintenance fund.
The board opted against warning an article to create a fund with surplus money for unanticipated deficits, an idea floated by a consultant hired this year to help the district develop financial strategies.
“This may be the time you put it aside and you may not need it for a number of years,” Komons-Montroll said. “Once you are right sized, things will be tighter.”
Board member Therese Lounsbury said the best way to help taxpayers is to use the money “to keep us out of the penalty box. So I don’t want to be tucking it away someplace else.”
The board also decided against warning an article to move surplus money into the maintenance fund. The fund currently holds about $243,000, which board member Kristy Corey described as being enough to cover projects previously discussed by Windham Southwest Operations Manager James Walker.
Atwood said next year, the board can present a specified amount to go into the maintenance fund. Last year, concerns about not having a figure on the warning had been raised at the annual meeting.
All articles will be voted on via Australian ballot this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the past, the budget has been decided by ballot on annual Town Meeting Day and some articles are addressed during an earlier annual district meeting.
The board is looking for new members after Dennis Richter of Wilmington and Lesa Trowt of Whitingham announced they will not be seeking reelection. Candidate consent forms, which do not require signatures on a petition, are due by Jan. 25.
An informational meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 23 on Google Meet.