Windham Southeast School District
Finance Committee Meeting – Tuesday January 12, 2021
5:30pm Via Zoom Meeting
Members: Shaun Murphy – Chairperson, Liz Adams, Jaci Reynolds, David Schoales
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 864 4407 0903
1. Call to Order
2. Approval of Minutes – December 2, 2020
3. FY22 WSESD Budget Planning Discussion
4. Capital Plan Project Review
5. Approve Warrants and Payrolls
6. Whetstone Village Association Fee
Cc BN for distribution 1.6.21
Note: These proposed minutes should be considered preliminary until they are approved by the board at a future meeting.
WINDHAM SOUTHEAST SCHOOL DISTRICT (WSESD) FINANCE COMMITTEE
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 2, 2020
REGULAR MEETING – 5:00PM
WSESD Finance Committee Members Present: Shaun Murphy (SM), Chair; Liz Adams (LA); Jaci Reynolds (JR)
WSESU Administrators Present: Andrew Skarzynski (Superintendent), Frank Rucker (Finance Director).
Media Present: none
Others Present: Wendy M. Levy (Board Recorder)
CALL TO ORDER
Chair SM called the meeting to order at 5:06pm.
1. APPROVAL OF MINUTES — NOVEMBER 4, 2020
MOTION BY LA TO APPROVE THE MINUTES OF NOVEMBER 4, 2020. JR SECONDED.
MOTION CARRIED 3-0.
No amendments or discussion.
III. FY22 WSESD BUDGET PLANNING DISCUSSION
Frank Rucker shared documents related to the FY22 WSESD budget planning and led a discussion on them.
Frank referenced one of the documents, a recent memorandum from the Vermont Tax Commissioner, Commissioner of Taxes Releases FY2022 Education Yield Letter, during a discussion about how Vermont establishes school funding. Frank noted this memorandum is available on the District’s website, in the “Finance Committee” section. As Frank explained, this information helps WSESD begin creating the FY22 school budget. He reviewed the projected four-year property tax figures, and noted he will review this information again at the December 16 Board meeting.
Frank shared a financial document that makes the memorandum relevant: it shows how the budget, expenditures, spending per student, yield, and tax rates are set and relate to one another. He explained that if the yield goes up, it’s good news for school boards because taxes go down. He added that it’s only one number out of many numbers that affect the District’s budget and the tax rate.
Frank shared some bad news: the yield is going down. Frank said he has never seen this before, and the letter explains why. He said the Legislature has frozen the Student Count (not to be mistaken for the Equalized Student Count) and lowered the yield.
Because the yield is down, Frank said, it could result in a 9-cent tax increase in the homestead property rate for FY22.
There are two main reasons for the increase, said Frank: COVID has caused non-property tax revenues to go down, and the projected cost of teachers’ retirement to the Education Fund is going way up.
Frank said the latter is a particular surprise to him.
Frank cautioned the Finance Committee to remember that this information from the tax commissioner is only a forecast, and not a “done deal.” Many states are in the same situation, he said, and Congress may help. Still, Frank noted, the District cannot ignore this. He has shared this information with Superintendent Andy Skarzynski and the administrative team, and they will take it into account when drafting the budget.
LA pointed out that last year, the Legislature clearly stated they don’t want a big tax increase, and they will spread out the increase over about five years, instead of a steep increase in one year. LA committed to contacting Senator Becca Balint, who will be the new Senate Pro Tem, about this concern, and Becca will listen. LA noted that this coming year, southern Vermont has many more representatives on the Committee of Committees than before—often, they are all from the Burlington area—so this could help the District. LA said that Rep. Baruth is not the Chair of the Education Committee this year, which benefits the District. “I don’t think this letter will happen,” said LA.
Frank supported LA’s committment to contact Legislators, and recommended others do so.
IV. CAPITAL PLAN PROJECT REVIEW
Frank shared and reviewed the summary of the five-year Capital Plan, and noted it is a work-in progress, and it covers all schools in the District. Most of the discussion was on the Academy School renovations/additions project. Highlights included:
• Frank shared a document from Cory Frehsee of Stevens & Associates, and he noted it appears on the District’s website, in the “Finance Committee” section. Frank said he reviewed the document with Academy School Principal Kelly Dias.
• Frank discussed the project’s schedule; the goal is to occupy the new spaces in January, 2022.
• Frank noted the new spaces serve Title I/Special Education students and the entire school population.
• Frank reminded committee members that the Board was about to begin the bid/bond process for this project, and then COVID arrived.
• Frank reviewed the project’s energy efficiency plans, and announced that Nadav Malin of Building Green is hosting workshops on the topic, and Board members are invited to attend.
• Frank reminded committee members that the Board needs to finalize bidding, and award the contract, no later than June, and they will need to pre-qualify contractors.
• Frank then shared details on the process, including when and how voters can participate, and different financing options, including using capital reserves.
• SM asked about internal financing versus borrowing to fund this project. A discussion ensued on the options, their implications, and the current interest rates.
• A discussion ensued on when the bond vote, if it were to occur, would occur, and how this affects and plays a part in the bidding process.
• Frank said the Board will have to make some decisions: how to fund this project, and is Nadav’s sustainable design work with Stevens & Associates acceptable.
SM noted the 9-cent increase is “the biggest we’ve ever seen.” He asked how it will direct Frank and the administration’s budget work, pointing out that it almost demands service-level-funding. SM asserted the Board does not want reductions. Frank replied: the District either cuts spending, or gets more students—that’s how to keep taxes down. Frank noted he and the Central Office team are working on this, and it’s a challenge.
LA cautioned against unleashing a panic on the community or scaring the staff. She wants to focus attention on the Legislature, which can still work on mitigating this. She noted the Legislature doesn’t want to slash the budget for school staffing because it diminishes equity, so they may back-fill school funding. SM agreed, and said the staff knows the Board does not want to cut staff. Frank also agreed, and noted he and Andy have discussed this, especially how it affects getting more students back into the building to address learning-loss.
A discussion ensued on whether the Finance Committee discussions should happen in the committee’s meeting, or with the full Board in their meetings. SM advocated for keeping the discussions in committees because meetings are already far too long, and Board members are welcome to attend committee meetings. JR agreed, and added small-group discussions are more helpful to her as a new Board member. LA agreed, especially with the concern over the length of Board meetings. SM recognized Board Recorder Wendy M. Levy, who agreed for labor reasons. She noted that her job requires a high level of focus to draft the high-quality minutes the Board/Finance Committee have come to expect, and sustaining that for many hours is very difficult.
MOTION BY LA TO ADJOURN AT 5:54PM. JR SECONDED. MOTION CARRIED 3-0.
Respectfully submitted by Wendy M. Levy from minutes taken by Wendy M. Levy.
This represents my understanding of the above dated meeting. If you have any changes, please submit them at the next Finance Committee meeting.