By RUSSELL JONES
In its first year as a unified board, the Quarry Valley Unified Union put a freeze on spending in December, after finding itself in a $200,000 hole. Nearly recovered after a five month freeze, the district plans to continue its frugal ways. The board also experienced a mini-shakeup when the board chair resigned for personal reasons and a new chair was named.
The first meeting after town meeting for any selectboard or school board is a reorganizational meeting where the board votes for a new chair, vice-chair, and clerk. When the QV board met on March 18, Greater Rutland County Supervisory Union superintendent Debra Taylor, who resides over the supervisory union that governs QV, let the board know that board chair Jim Oberg had resigned prior to the meeting.
“He made the decision about a week ago,” Taylor said. “He didn’t really elaborate, but he wanted me to extend his appreciation to the board for their continued good work.”
Oberg told The Reporter in an email response that he resigned from the board for personal reasons after careful consideration.
“It was not a decision I took lightly and made with a heavy heart,” he said. “I enjoyed my time on the Quarry Valley board and the previous years spent on the Poultney Town School Board and Act 46 committee also. I do hope to be able to volunteer more time with the board in the future, but at this time am unable to say if or when that might be.”
Lisa Miser was elected to fill the board chair position. Jim Mumford was elected as vice-chair and Linda Smith was elected as clerk.
FREEZE ELIMINATES DEFICIT
With the reorganization out of the way, the board discussed a financial strain the district had been under since late last year and what to do in the future.
“The last forecast provided by our business manager projected a deficit of $200,000, and we froze spending, as much as we possibly could,” Taylor said. “His most recent estimate shows a very small surplus of $3,000, so we did recoup much of that by our freeze. However, he is still recommending, and I highly endorse his recommendation, to freeze spending for the rest of the year so that we can end up in the black.”
No one on the board wants to end the year in a deficit but, due to past practices of different smaller districts, not everyone was on the same page, spending-wise, throughout the year.
“It’s hard because I’ve always taught my teachers, don’t spend it until you actually need whatever you’re using,” Proctor Elementary principal Christy Coloutti said. “So, art, for instance, there is a bunch of things that she needs, but has not purchased. I froze spending in December like Louis (Milazzo, district business manager) asked. There are plenty of art supplies that she hasn’t bought. Now, she is trying to find alternative planning, because we can’t purchase supplies.”
Poultney Elementary principal Kristen Caliguiri said she froze spending in October, and now there might not be funding for field trips that may come up.
“In the past we’ve always been taught, at least with our old district, hold off until this time of year so when he does his projection in March we can see what we got,” Poultney High School principal Joe DeBonis said.
“We generally don’t take orders after the beginning of April,” Taylor told the assembled principals.
“Yes, but December is actually when we were told to freeze,” Coloutti said. “We stopped in December.”
New board chair Lisa Miser said that if teachers needed those supplies in their classrooms, they should have been ordering them in July, August and September.
“We’ve had those problems before, when we have frozen the budget independently in May,” Miser said.
“May is different than December,” Coloutti countered.
Newly elected board member Gail Curtis, who was formerly an educator, said she learned that lesson the hard way.
“As a teacher that’s the first thing I learned when I got my budget frozen. I thought ‘Woah I don’t want to go through that again,’” she said.
Miser worried that freezing the budgets in December could cause teachers to spend the entire budget in the fall, and said she thinks “there has to be some level of discretion” involved.
“Anything that we absolutely need will be purchased,” Taylor said.
SECURITY ADDS TO BUDGET
Some of the problems are related to the newness of the consolidated school district, and some problems are related to beefing up school security.
“Because of some very important security issues we chose to add a new position that wasn’t budgeted for,” Taylor explained. “As a new district, we’re learning what the flow of our expenditures are. We don’t know as a team what all of those are and we’ll be learning about when expenditures need to occur.”
One of the lessons that Proctor principal Chris Sell has learned is that because of the timing of available spending, fall sports and spring sports receive different levels of attention.
“One of the issues we’re running into is baseball and softball,” Sell said. “Because they froze spending, we can’t make any purchases for those sports, so we’re finding it hard to field teams because we don’t have the supplies.”
Although the district did re-up on new equipment for baseball last summer, some items need to be purchased every year. New balls, some bats, and helmets are needed and Sell and other principals can’t spend the budgeted money to get them. It is not a lot of money, in general, but when all three schools are buying those supplies, Debonis said ‘there goes your $3,000’ in surplus.
“This is my first year in this SU,” Sell said. “But if this is going to be policy, we’d make a firm stance that all orders need to be purchased by a certain date so our athletic directors and coaches know, so we don’t put ourselves in this situation. Right now, (the question is) how do we handle supplies for baseball and softball.”
“I would suggest donations or the boosters,” Taylor said. “We don’t really have any options right now. I think the board is clear and in agreement that the board does not want to go into the red.”
The board only has a few months left until the new fiscal year begins in July and whether their books will be in the black at the end of June remains to be seen, but Taylor thanked the board for holding the line as they overcame what she called a very large deficit.
“This behooves us to look at staffing when we budget because these freezes are going to impact students before they impact instructors,” Miser said. “Because you’re (instructors) still getting paid. Kids that aren’t going to get to go on field trips, that is part of what we want them doing, experiencing. That is part of the whole expeditionary learning that we want them to get.”