Saturday, September 24, 2011

Longmeadow Property Taxes- Part II

This past February I researched historical property taxes for Longmeadow and compared them to the surrounding towns of East Longmeadow, Hampden and Wilbraham.  These results showed that Longmeadow has had significantly higher property taxes for the past 20 years vs. all of these surrounding towns.

This past week, information regarding a second bond ($17.5 million) that will be issued by Longmeadow in mid-October for the remainder of the required $44.1 million financing was presented to the Select Board.  This second bond will have a duration of 20 years at an interest rate estimated at 3.65%.

With this information I have now projected Longmeadow property taxes for the next 10 years (--> 2020).  These projections include both the allowable 2.5% increase and the financing costs for the new high school.   There are no additional capital projects (e.g., new DPW facility) or operational overrides included with these projections.
Click chart to enlarge
For the average property owner (assessment = $351K), taxes will increase from $6,584 (FY2012) --> $8,824- an increase of 37.5%It should be noted that 27.1% of this increase is related to the 2.5% annual increase that is allowed by law without an override.

Individual property owners can take the projected mil rates ($/$1000) + their current assessed values (see Vision Appraisal Database) to estimate their future taxes.

The official FY2012 mil rate will be established in December so the first steps of the LHS financing impact will not be observed until the 3Q (due Feb 1, 2012) and 4Q (due May 1, 2012) tax bills are issued.

It should be noted that these projected numbers are not official and are subject to change as the specifics of the actual school project bond issuance are finalized.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Now that the dust has settled....

During the past couple of weeks, there has been some pretty harsh words spoken by Select Board chair Mark Gold about the School Committee's manipulation of the budget.   School Committee chair Jennifer Jester voiced her displeasure of these remarks during comments of the September 12 SC meeting.  A video clip of Mr. Gold's comments were posted in a previous Buzz posting.  Below is a LCTV video clip of Ms. Jester's comments....

In Ms. Jester's remarks she states that "the budget is managed in "a transparent and open manner so that all residents are aware when line items are changed".   This was certainly not the case with regard to the new Superintendent's salary. See two previous Buzz posts- Longmeadow Town Manager and School Superintendent Contracts (10/6/10) and Here We Go Again! (7/3/11) for details.

Until recently the only FY12 Budget that was posted on the Longmeadow School Department website was dated 2/11/11.  It was only recently on Sept 14 (through my request) that a more accurate FY12 budget dated 6/24/11 was posted for town residents to view.  However, this latest posted budget does not reflect recent salary increases for key school department administrative personnel.

It would be helpful for people interested in current school dept budget information if the some of the key salary line items were subdivided.... For example, High School Principal line item contains 4 FTE's.  It would be more "transparent and open" if the individual administrative salary items were listed and not grouped together particularly since such a large portion of the School Dept's budget is salary related.

The School Committee should post updated School Department budget information on the LPS website on a quarterly basis.

The School Committee as well as the Finance Subcommittee meeting minutes are not posted in a timely manner.  For example, the May-August SC minutes were not posted until September 7 and Finance Subcommittees May - August minutes were not posted until September 14..  See list of posted SC meeting minutesThe Operations Subcommittee does not post meeting minutes.

I would recommend that meeting minutes of both the SC and the Operational/ Financial Sub-committees be posted as they are approved, not 3 months later.

The Select Board does post minutes on the town website but not in a timely manner- the last set of SB posted minutes were for the June 28 meeting.  It should be noted that the Select Board Operations and Finance Subcommittees do not post meeting minutes on the town website. The Select Board needs to do better.

I do want to commend one earlier action by Rob Aseltine when he initiated as Chair the posting of all information relevant to SB meetings before the meetings take place- here is the link to this information.  These documents particularly those containing budget information are very useful when watching meetings.  The School Committee should consider a similar initiative.

The SC and SB need to work together- not against each other and both should strive to operate in an "transparent and open manner".  There is still room for both groups to improve.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Another SC Candidate Provides Answers

Before the joint SC-SB interview session for the two vacant SC seats on September 12, I invited the eight candidates to provide answers to four questions.

Hal Etkin has already provided his answers in a previous post.

In this Buzz posting James Desrochers provides his answers ...

I would like to preface all of my answers below with the perspective that if I were to be selected as a member of the school committee my first object is to gain an in depth understanding of the issues and challenges of our school system. This knowledge that I gain will in all likelihood modify my thoughts and therefore the answers I have provided below.

 1.  What is the best way to improve the quality of education in our schools?

Having had my daughter graduate from the Longmeadow school system and currently having my son in high school I feel the school system does a fine if not excellent job of education in many areas. However as in everything there is opportunity to improve. I believe the following actions would improve upon the current high level of education our students receive.
  • Strengthen our ties between the high school and local colleges. The focus should be on mentoring and guidance to individual students and clubs.  
  • Strengthen the ties between the high school and middle schools for the same purpose.  I would like to see the current high school club process strengthened. They provide a key opportunity to create excitement with the students and link what they are learning in class to fun and exciting activities.  We need to take more advantage of the Science Technology Math and Engineering (STEM) money available to help students explore areas in math and science.  
  • We need to continue to fund and build our music program. With my whole family involved in music I have found that it creates excitement and creativity of thinking that otherwise may be missed.  Ensure that the physical facilities provide an environment that teachers and students feel positive about.   
  • We need to create a clear vision on where our educational system is going which will allow our entire community to rally behind the vision to move forward. 
2. What is the biggest challenge the school district faces, and how would you try to solve? 

Given the economic times we are in the challenge of balancing the needs of the teachers, parents and community while delivering a quality education is one of the biggest challenges that I see. I would work with all the stakeholders to develop plans forward that create the value we want to deliver for our community. This isn’t a silver bullet for this type of effort. It requires working together and compromising where needed to create a plan that everyone can support and work toward.

3. What is the attribute(s) you bring to the board that should cause School Committee/Select Board member to vote for you?

I am an energetic person with a great deal of experience in the corporate world. I am now in a position to use my energy and skills gained over many years to help the school committee address the challenges it faces and add value. I believe that my desire to participate in the process of clearly understanding the challenges we face in providing the best education for our children and my willingness to work as a team member to create solutions is key. My background in leading and participating on teams, large and small, to create solutions to significant challenges in the engineering environment will help me provide value to the board and the town.

4. If appointed to the School Committee, name two priorities you'll bring to the position over the next 9 months? 

I will focus on is gaining a deep understanding of the many challenges in front of us. I believe that gaining an in depth understanding of the challenges will allow me to add value to the committee, school system and community.While I am working on learning as defined above I will work with the stakeholders in addressing the biggest challenge that I see today which is delivering value in today’s economic environment as previously stated. 

The remaining six SC candidates who have not as yet participated are invited to submit their answers for posting on the Buzz prior to the SC/SB meeting on October 3 during which the two vacancies will be filled.

These two appointments to the School Committee (2 of 7 members on the committee) will be very important to the future of our town.  These two new SC members will likely be casting deciding votes on a number of important decisions over the next 9 months.   

I would encourage all town residents to make their choices known to School Committee and Select Board members.  Select Board email addresses can be found on its webpage

School Committee member official email addresses are as follows: