Capital reserve fund causes confusion at meeting
by Lauren Harkawik
Mar 09, 2018 | 1173 views | 0 0 comments | 39 39 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WARDSBORO- Voters gathered for Wardsboro’s annual school district meeting on Monday evening, where a budget of $1,955,233 passed. The budget was down 1.4% from last year. Overall, the meeting was without much friction. However, a discussion of a capital reserve fund led to some intrigue. Article V asked: “Shall the Town School District authorize any surplus from the 2017-2018 budget to be placed in the Capital Reserve Fund?”

Nancy Meinhard questioned the article, saying the matter had been voted in the affirmative the previous year, yet the previous year’s surplus hadn’t left the school’s account to be put into a capital reserve fund. “My understanding was that the body voted last year to put (surplus) into a capital reserve account,” said Meinhard. “As auditor, I noticed there isn’t any capital reserve account for the school.”

Though no one noted it at the time, as it turns out, the issue was not on last year’s warning, nor did discussion of it appear in the minutes for last year’s annual meeting. Asked for clarification on Wednesday, Wardsboro Town Clerk Jackie Bedard said the error may have been hers.

“I think I might be losing my mind,” said Bedard. “Nancy and I were talking about it about a month ago and it was I who told her I thought the school board had not followed through on funding the capital reserve fund last year. I was sure it was on the warning, but as you found, it was not, so while the school board didn’t remember correctly either, we may all be losing our minds.”

Nevertheless, discussion of the capital reserve fund highlighted what may be a point of tension: a forthcoming merger of the school district’s assets with Dover’s.

Meinhard asked why the money wasn’t being used to lower the budget and to benefit Wardsboro specifically. “Before it all goes into a bigger pot,” said Meinhard, “why aren’t we using it to benefit Wardsboro now?”

The “bigger pot” Meinhard was referencing was that of a merged district between Wardsboro and Dover, the River Valleys Unified School District, which will go into effect on July 1, 2019. At that time, all assets and debts of both currently independent districts will become those of the merged district.

School board vice chair Mike Cusick said $81,000 of the current surplus funds were going to be used to keep the tax rate the same as it was last year, and that he wasn’t sure how much of the surplus would actually go in the reserve fund, noting that the warning said “any” surplus and not “all” surplus.

“Once you put it into capital reserve, it’s earmarked for the capital improvements,” said Cusick. “So by leaving it as the fund balance, we can use it for something unanticipated.”

Dover School Board chair Rich Werner, who is also chair of the River Valleys board and was in attendance, said Dover also votes to put the surplus into a capital reserve fund. Dwight Boerem, who serves on both boards, noted that the new board is making a concerted effort to get a clear picture of the merged district’s capital needs before July 1, 2019. At the request of the River Valleys board, both schools are in the process of pursuing building audits.

“So we’ll know going in what we’re going to need for the next 10 to 15 years,” said Boerem.

Toward the meeting’s close, board positions were filled, with Mike Murphy, Jim Thomas, and Boerem accepting nominations to continue to serve on the board. Cusick said he did not want to continue on the board, and Barry Pearson, who serves on the River Valleys Board, was nominated. He accepted.

The meeting marked the last time Wardsboro will vote on a school budget for its own school district; next February, Wardsboro voters will come together with Dover voters to vote on the first budget for the River Valleys district.

Before Pearson accepted the nomination, chair David Sklar noted the importance of the position. “Even though this is our last budget, we do have important work to do this next year,” he said. “Especially transitioning to the new board. We can use all of the help we can get.”
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