• Harwood budget faces challenges
     | January 05,2013

    DUXBURY — Harwood Union could face changes to its middle school sports or to other expenses in the school board’s budget request to voters this year.

    At Wednesday’s Harwood Union board meeting, officials discussed possibly cutting 1.5 positions and dropping Harwood Union Middle School extracurricular sports to intramurals, among other ideas.

    No decisions were made, and school officials are looking for alternatives while analyzing the effects of those possibilities.

    The board advised staff this week to avoid those possible cuts. The layoffs could affect teaching staff, but one retirement is anticipated, said Harwood board Chairman Chris Koliba.

    As of Friday, the draft budget for Harwood Union Middle/High School calls for $13,082,128 in expenses, increasing spending by 8.2 percent. No estimates on taxpayer effects were available.

    The possible cuts were a way to try to avoid the two-vote requirement in state law, triggered when a school district proposes a budget that increased more than the rate of inflation plus 1 percent. The votes can occur on the same ballot.

    “A two-vote threshold is what triggered this discussion,” Koliba said after the meeting, adding that the board is seriously considering a two-vote budget as an option. “We’re trying to turn over every rock to not have us go there, but we’re pretty confident that when we lay out the arguments to voters, they’ll want to support the school at this point.”

    Koliba said another proposal for savings will likely remain, which calls for a reduction in after-school bus runs for Harwood Union’s middle and high school. School administrators could recommend reducing two late bus runs into one, but they plan to gather more information to evaluate that possibility.

    Koliba said several uncontrollable costs are driving the increase, such as health insurance, pay raises and some $400,000 in special education. The district anticipates a 14 percent increase in health insurance costs.

    The Washington West Supervisory Union finance and operations director, Michelle Baker, said the school’s budgeting was prudent in previous years, which may hurt it in trying to stay under the two-vote threshold.

    Harwood Middle/High School increased spending by 0.7 percent for the current fiscal year, and it decreased spending by 1 percent for fiscal year 2011 and 1.2 percent for fiscal year 2012.

    The budget also calls for applying $239,052 in leftover, unrestricted general fund balance from fiscal year 2012, the most recent year due to a staggered application of funds, for the upcoming budget. The 2014 fiscal year begins in July.

    The Harwood board hopes to finalize its budget proposal Jan. 16.

    david.taube @timesargus.com

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