May 28, 2022

HSB Minutes 10-27-2021


Hartford Board of School Directors

School Board Community Engagement Meeting Minutes

October 27, 2021 @ 6:00 pm

In-Person at Hartford Town Hall and Online (Zoom) Meeting  
 

Members Present                                          Administrators Present

Kevin Christie                                                  Tom DeBalsi

Peter Merrill                                                    Cathy Newton

Nancy Russell                                                 Roy Hathorn

Russell North

Havah Armstrong Walther

Sydney Stillman

 

          1.  Call to Order 

-        Changes, Additions and Approval of Agenda  
Mr. Christie called the meeting to order at 6:09 PM.
The public was invited to join the meeting using the link: https://zoom.us/j/97430755984, meeting ID 974 3075 5984.

Mr. North asked to add a time for public comment after the Superintendent’s update.

Moved by Mr. Merrill, seconded by Mrs. Russell, to accept the agenda as amended, motion carried.
 

          2.  Update from the Superintendent

Mr. DeBalsi gave an update. He shared that the board has received letters from teachers, staff, and parents about the challenges of the school year, including: high stress levels, behavioral issues, quarantining, and student attendance. Younger students are having a harder time adjusting to school given their school experience has been so disrupted. There are many behavior challenges across the board, the more significant ones are at the elementary level. The administrative team met with the leaders of the association. They will meet with others to see what solutions there may be. He will update the board at the next board meeting, probably in executive session which may include changes to the school day. The stress and overwhelming behaviors have been a struggle for many. 

Mr. Christie advised, if necessary, have a special meeting for the Executive Session to discuss these sensitive topics.

Mrs. Newton gave an update about the letter outlining concerns of the newly adopted EL curriculum. She is working with the implementation team from each school and the lead teacher from the EL program. Taking time to listen to the representatives and working with the lead teacher trainer will help identify where the focus should be and what can be done over the next couple of years to transition instead of a one year transition. It’s difficult to deliver a new program given the pandemic and attendance of students. Adjustments will be made to the program. An update will be given at the next meeting.

Mr. Christie opened the meeting to the public for comment. 

Mrs. Russell asked Mr. Christie or Mr. DeBalsi to share with the public what the protocol is for giving board members comments. She has had messages left on her phone at home.

Mr. DeBalsi asked the public to go through the proper chain-of-command: teacher, building administrator, district administrator, then school board.  If someone is upset about a situation, you start at the building level. In some cases the board has to act as an appeal board over an issue, they have to be unbiased and not know the background information before that hearing.  Mr. Christie gave examples of how the process has happened in the past. Any community letter then becomes the public record on the issue. 

Mr. DeBalsi read an inquiry from someone in the chat section about a letter from the National School Boards Association to the President and what curriculum changed?

Mrs. Newton explained the new curriculum is ELA Education, adopted this year, to address consistency in reading, writing, and English language arts curriculum. She referenced a link on the district website and gave a quick overview of the program. 

Mr. Christie advised that the board would not be able to comment on the national letter, it could be included on the Nov 10th agenda. Mr. Merrill assumed that it was the letter sent to President Biden on September 29th.

Mr. DeBalsi advised that community members need to identify themselves when speaking.

Mrs. Russell asked for a review of protocol for public comments. Mr. Christie answered that the public comment time is provided at the beginning of the meeting so that the board can continue with their work during the business portion. He then read the seven actions the board could take with any public comment.

Mrs. Russell announced that the State Health Dept is holding COVID vaccine clinics Mondays and Thursdays in November at the high school. Mr. DeBalsi announced that they have scheduled a clinic next week at the WRS for children should the vaccine become available. 

 

3. Community Engagement Meeting Outline

Mr. Christie turned the meeting to Mr. North and Ms Walther who then turned it over to Mr. DeBalsi who reviewed the budget process and capital maintenance plan. 

 

1)    Overview and presentation on the budgeting process
     Jake Vezina gave an overview. The process begins early in the fall with the building administrators. The superintendent weighs in on any potential staffing change. The board advises on what the potential increase should be. There are several drafts of the budget. The CLA and revenue numbers from the state are not always timely for the budgeting process. 

 
2)    Overview and discussion of capital maintenance plan
a)    Overview of plan, process to develop it, how it’s updated, and other factors

b)    Focus on priorities for next five years (or other suitable period) with cost estimates

c)     Discussion of estimate of ongoing small repair/maintenance item costs to be factored into annual budget discussions, i.e. things that would not be appropriate to include in a bond

d)    Criteria on when and what to bond
i)       Ongoing operational repairs verses large repairs and improvements

ii)     Current benefits verses long-term benefits

iii)    Impact on budget and current students verses future students
 
Mr. DeBalsi introduced Jonathan Garthwaite, new Facility Director. Byron Baribeau retired three weeks ago. The maintenance plan includes items for the immediate future and out to thirty years. The big focus is on the five year list. The district has done many updates to the facilities. The board should be proud of the work. The list includes what has been done in the past few years. The pandemic has affected some of the items on the list. Several projects were deferred to see what would happen in the community.

     Mr. Garthwaite spoke on observations, given that he’s eight days into the job. The larger projects are more complex and need to align with the regular financial picture. There continues to be a backlog with companies and start time for building projects. It is still necessary to get on the board for future projects. The goal is to identify spending and stabilize that over a period of years. A planning tool that identifies aspirational or operational goals would be helpful. 

     Mr. DeBalsi noted that the board has balanced facility upgrades and program growth well. Mr. Merrill asked that somewhere there should be information on what the program growth items have been and that there be a placeholder for the Wilder School.  The most important projects are the roofs at DBS and OQS.  There was an engineering study done before the pandemic with recommendations. He reviewed the other projects listed on the plan: BEST room at HACTC, Covell house, HMS inside updates, HHS library, bathrooms, and gym lobby.

     Mr. North asked about the benefit to current students while prolonging the updates, the future students reap the benefits. Mr. DeBalsi stated that’s a struggle, trying to figure out what updates need to be done so that those in attendance can benefit. Updates to the HHS library will benefit students for the next twenty years. 

Mr. Christie suggested developing a rubric/template to use in deciding the projects. 

Mr. North noted that there may be smaller items that can be absorbed in the regular budget.  

Jim Vezina thanked Mr. DeBalsi and the board for their work in maintaining and updating the facilities. The district facilities are in great shape. Mr. DeBalsi thanked the board for their continued support. 
 
3)    Bonding considerations
a)    Costs of obtaining bond and other requirements

b)    Thresholds for level of debt service
i)       Bonding capacity of district

ii)     Coordination with town and town’s overall bonding capacity

iii)    Effect of bond payments on the budget and tax rate
c)     Current considerations, interest rate, State’s bond rating, inflation rate and predictions for the future

d)    Bond term/s

e)    Criteria for annual debt service in operating budget, what percent of the budget should debt service consume, percentage guideline

f)      Historical factors
i)       Snap shot of rates over the last 25 years

ii)     Range of rates on existing bonds

iii)    Maturity schedule of existing bonds

iv)   Impact of changes in rates on carrying costs
Jake Vezina explained that there are associated costs with legal fees when considering a bond. Our debt service, principle and interest, is about 4% of the overall budget. There is some coordination with the town and school district about bonds to avoid conflicting interests. Jake had an inquiry into the bond bank: $5M over 20 years, projected interest 2.33% (interest rate average over the life of the loan), summer bond pool for 20-21 closed at 2.5%, you don’t get to pay off your bond early. The auditors are researching the amount of debt a district should carry. Mr. North suggested having a board discussion about this and setting a limit. The Wilder bond rate was 1.36 to 3.09%. 

The Wilder School bond, the latest, will be paid off in 2039.
 
4)    Construction and Other Reserve Accounts
a)    Present reserve account balance

b)    Liquidity concerns

c)     Consideration for future reserves

d)    State requirements on use of reserve funds, limitations
Jake shared the balances of the reserve fund accounts. These funds are intended for an emergency that you didn’t budget for. The board has access to transfer the reserve funds at any time. Best practice is to put them in the budget for $1 and that gives you authority to move the monies. He referenced a VSA stating guidelines for the capital project fund, currently we have two. The five year period ends next year, so the deadline is near to spend the money. There are no limitations for other reserve funds. 

Mr. Christie cautioned about statutory regulations for some of the reserve funds, length of time, use of monies. 

Mr. North asked the possibility of targeting some of the HRA, Health Reimbursement Account, balance to a reserve fund earmarked for project overruns. He further asked about setting aside the average $300,000 annually as to not inflate the budgeted amount. The finance team will address this with the actuarial team. 
 
5)    Other discussion points/questions

Mr. Merrill asked about the process to get the questions answered. What should the next steps be?

Mr. Christie summarized some points of the discussion: using a rubric for identifying where the spending should take place, the actuarial team findings, the use of a planning tool, and how to best use the capital reserve money before the five year time period is up. 

Mr. North suggested a working group, sub-committee. We may need to hire a consultant but at this time we don’t know what/who we need. 

Mr. DeBalsi noted there may be some grants available for some projects, equity funds for the bathroom updates at the high school? Outdoor education space on the Christian Street property? He suggested the board have a discussion on the variety of projects to identify priorities. 

Mr. Merrill suggested using the same approach as was taken for the Wilder School project, asking the community for their input. This taskforce would operate on a short timeline. 

Mr. Christie asked the board to think about how large the group should be and to think of who in the community should be on the taskforce. Mr. DeBalsi will bring the outline from the Wilder Committee to the Nov 10th meeting. Mr. North and Mr. Christie volunteered for the committee.
4.  Adjournment

Moved by Mr. Merrill, seconded by Mrs. Russell, to adjourn at 8:18 PM, motion carried. 

 

Respectfully submitted,

Cherrie Torrey

Recorder

 

Next Regular School Board Meeting is November 10, 2021, at 6:00 PM