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Minuteman High’s FY09 Budget Hearing

So far, Arlington’s five-year plan has been executed fairly closely. Health care costs have, on average, exceed the 7% ceiling, but the plan anticipated this by restricting the growth of salaries and expenses. The state aid hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations. But the biggest deviation from the plan has been the Minuteman Regional High. There have been several double-digit percentage increases, and I’ve been increasingly vocal about them at Finance Committee and Town Meeting. I decided to attend Minuteman’s public hearing on their budget and, if appropriate, tell them what I think.

The event was on Tuesday (1/22) at Minuteman. A written packet was provided. The Minuteman School Committee discussed the budget for a few minutes, then opened up the public hearing. The superintendent gave a presentation, and then the chairman solicited questions and comments.

I quickly flipped to the back of the book to check out the assessments. The good news is that Arlington’s preliminary assessment went up only $23,533, or 0.7%. The overall budget was up 4.0%, but the assessment formula and enrollment figures held Arlington’s increase to a lower number.

Finance Committee Chairman Al Tosti was present. He delivered a simple message: Arlington cannot sustain the budget increases that have been coming from Minuteman. (It would appear that the upcoming year will be a relief from that pace, but that information wasn’t clear at the time). He explained the budget restrictions imposed by the five-year plan, and how Minuteman was stressing that plan.

Several parents spoke about specific programs or personnel issues that they cared about. They would refer to specific lineitems in the expenses budget and ask why they were cut – often questioning items as small as $400.

I thought the budget package wasn’t very clear. I spoke at the hearing and asked for more information on the budget. The problem: The budget is roughly $17 million dollars. 21 pages of the budget document were devoted to a line-by-line description of expenses, roughly $6.5 million. But the lion’s share of the budget, the $10.5 million in salaries, gets only 5 lines in the whole packet! There is no way to see how many people are hired and fired, what departments they are in, what services they provide, etc. This budget presentation is, I think, what drove the questions from the parents. If they could see the bigger picture, they’d be able to ask more constructive questions and not waste time quibbling about $400.

I also repeated Al Tosti’s point about the rate of increases going forward. I think the message was understood by most (not all) of the committee. The superintendent clearly understood what we were saying.

One of the most interesting comments came from the superintendent. He noted that only 50% of the students who are accepted at Minuteman actually attend. He talked about the steps they were taking to increase that number. This sounds like a great idea to me, an idea that could significantly improve the enrollment numbers.

I look forward to more progress at Minuteman.


Pingback from Dan Dunn’s Podium » Finance Committee – ‘09 Budget Review Kickoff
Time: February 17, 2008, 5:46 pm

[…] We then reviewed the Town Warrant to consider which articles we thought we should have a hearing on. (You can read the current warrant version on the town website). We will hear discussion on the obvious articles, like budgets. We also agreed to hear about holding the warrant open until 60 days before town meeting; plowing the sidewalks; abutter notification requirements; special legislation for funding pond maitenance; Transportation Advisory Committee request; OPEB (other post retirement benefit obligation, specifically health care for retirees), POBs (pension obligation bonds), and retirement funding; and revaluation.  The rest of the warrant was determined to be not finance-related. The Minuteman High budget was discussed. […]

Pingback from Dan Dunn’s Podium » Finance Committee – Warrant, Housing Trust, and Minuteman
Time: March 27, 2008, 10:39 pm

[…] – Superintendent Bouquillon presented the Minuteman budget. His presentation was consistent with what I saw in January. He talked about MCAS success, out of district students, recruitment goals, communication with […]