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Immediately following the April 5 public hearing on the Region 4 2021–’22 (’22) proposed $21,972,472 budget, during which no members of the public spoke for or against the budget, the Region 4 Board of Education (BOE) held a special meeting to discuss a potential reduction to the district’s capital requests to help reduce the proposed $21,972,472 budget. The board trimmed $34,350 from the capital proposal.
The $255,000 in capital items up for review included a chiller replacement at John Winthrop Middle School (JWMS) for $120,000; an upgrade to the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) at Valley Regional High School (VRHS) for $50,000; and a chimney repair at VRHS for $50,000. The proposal also included a $35,000 appropriation to the capital reserve fund.
Other requests, which had not yet made it onto the capital request list for the ’22 school year, included a $50,000 repair to an underground tank at JWMS, $55,650 for curbing and sidewalk repair at JWMS, and $40,000 for parking lot and asphalt curbing at VRHS.
On April 5, the board voted to reduce the total amount budgeted for capital items from $255,000 to $220,650. The changes include reducing the amount for work on the chiller to $30,000 from $120,000, with $25,000 earmarked for repairing the item and $5,000 for inspecting the existing, operable chiller.
The savings in the capital line item for the chiller replacement was the result of a re-inspection of the equipment by the district’s service contractors, who determined that the chiller could be repaired as opposed to doing a full replacement. The chiller, which has been inoperable since at least 2018, is approximately 14 years old and is about halfway through its estimated service life.
The final list of capital items also now includes $55,650 in curbing and sidewalk repair at JWMS.
These changes resulted in an overall reduction to the ’22 budget proposal for Region 4 by $34,350, for a total proposed budget of $21,938,122, which is a $774,381 or 3.66 percent increase over current year spending. The proposed budget now moves to an annual town meeting on Monday, May 3, followed by a referendum on May 4.
Budgeting for Capital Expenditures
Superintendent of Schools Brian White originally recommended that the savings from the chiller be used for unanticipated expenses related to chimney work, as the $50,000 estimate for the chimney did not take into account replacing or repairing the flue.
“At this time, we don’t have specific evidence of flue damage, but it’s like the old house, you know, you pull off the brick and then you find (that) you have another problem unexpectedly,” said White.
White recommended prioritizing the chimney repair work before addressing other items in the capital budget; a lengthy discussion by board members followed regarding the proper way to account for unanticipated costs associated with capital items.
In responding to a board member’s question relating to how the capital reserve fund could be used, White said that the $35,000 contribution to that fund could potentially be used as a buffer for unanticipated expenses.
With the district taking steps to reduce the deficit in the capital reserve fund, White said, “So, as we move from the red into the black, the $35,000 is really to start to establish that fund, and to be there for contingencies in addition to the projects that we’re budgeting for.
“I think our hope long-term would be that by next year, with a better understanding of the long-term facilities needs and costs, to develop a capital plan, where we could in a very predictable way budget a set amount of dollars every year moving forward based on the known needs of both facilities,” he continued.
Region 4 BOE board member Lori Ann Clymas stressed the importance of budgeting appropriately for capital items that have been on the district’s list for a long time, especially those relating to health and safety.
“The curbing and sidewalk replacement at John Winthrop is a hazard,” said Clymas. “It’s also a safety issue and it’s also an insurance issue for any kind of insurance claims that could come in, that also could impact our insurance expenses and our rating system.”
John Stack, a Region 4 board member, discussed addressing capital items in a reasonable time period.
“I’ll tell you this, I’m an advocate. I agree with Lori. These capital projects, they don’t go away, and they get more expensive with time,” said Stack