No major budget action from school board

After all the drama over meeting while the mayor was away, nothing happened.

No major budget action from school board

Friday, Feb. 25, 2011

MANCHESTER – The Board of School Committee had scheduled a special meeting to hash out the details of the 2012 school budget, but it was called to a close before any major decisions were made.

Ten of the board’s 15 members attended Thursday’s budget workshop meeting, enough to constitute a quorum, but when the board started taking votes on what line items to include in the final budget, Committee members Tom Katsiantonis and Mike DeBlasi walked out. Both said they were uncomfortable making budget decisions without more members present.

“If I was one of those five guys not here voting for all of this, I would not be a happy camper,” said Katisantonis. The committee is scheduled to meet on Feb. 28, so these votes should wait until then, he added. “We all know the budget is one of the most important things for all of us. I am not voting for anything.”

“If the purpose of the meeting is to have a productive budget work session that’s why I showed up. I didn’t show up to cast votes,” said DeBlasi.

With eight board members left — the minimum number for a quorum — Committee member Arthur Beaudry made a motion to adjourn.

“We have barely a quorum. You’re looking at (a majority vote of) five members of the board making a decision for 15. I don’t think that’s appropriate at this time,” said Beaudry.

The board attendance was so slim because three members, including Mayor Ted Gatsas, were away on vacation. Two others had alerted Vice Chairman Gelinas they were unable to attend.

Those who wanted DeBlasi and Katsiantonis to stay argued that the meeting wasn’t for voting on a final budget, but finding common items they could agree on.

“There are things we can move on to define parameters and make it easier to chew on on Monday,” said Committee member Joe Briggs. “I think it’s worthwhile for us to clean the plate and move the peas to one side and the carrots to the other.”

Committee member Soucy said she too was concerned more members were not present, but the need for a school vacation-week meeting became more urgent when Gatsas told them he expected a school budget vote on Monday. The board had originally agreed to vote on the budget on March 5 and use Monday’s meeting as a workshop for discussion, but last Friday, Gatsas released a memo calling for a new school budget schedule, saying the charter gives him authority to do so.

“It will be helpful, at least in my perspective, to go through the lists and try to at least get a worksheet going,” said Soucy. “Our work session was kind of taken from us even though all 15 of us sat around and made that date.”

If basic decisions aren’t made now, Soucy added, Monday’s meeting could last for hours.

But if the board was just going to revisit on Monday every decision it made on Thursday, DeBlasi said, Thursday’s discussion “seems to be an exercise in futility.”

For the past two months, committee members have become increasingly frustrated with Gatsas and his handling of the school board budget discussions. Decisions on a budget number, budget cuts and even how to discuss the budget sometimes evolved into contentious arguments between Gatsas and the board. The mayor has pushed for deep budget cuts to avoid large tax increases, but committee members have pushed back on this plan to find other solutions.

Some board members said on Wednesday that a meeting might be more productive without the mayor.

Herbert told the committee his intention behind the meeting was to create a school budget by the school board, not the mayor.

“I had a sense we were having difficulty doing out job and felt if we could meet as a board with the vice chair running the committee, I thought it was quite reasonable we could take some votes,” said Herbert. “I felt the way the committee discussions were going, we were unable to take the final steps and put together our own budget, and not one being totally driven by the city side.”

Although the budget debate was cut short, a majority of the board members present indicated they would be willing to use more one-time money from the school district’s expendable account to prevent layoffs and tax increases. The board also agreed to reduce 12 teaching positions that are becoming vacant due to retirement and using $1.4 million in federal funds the district is expected to receive for teaching positions.

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