Below is a letter sent last evening from Dr. Lusi in response to a Letter to the Editor in Newport Daily News. Our responses to misinformation should be the facts. Let's maintain a positive approach to a clear minority willing to use misinformation to frame their argument.
Dear Members of the Portsmouth Community:
The editorial published in today’s Daily News entitled, It’s Time for Portsmouth Voters to Draw Line on School Spending is so full of incorrect information that I feel compelled to respond. I address some of the most glaring inaccuracies below:
Assertion: The budget referendum is “to vote on whether to increase the fiscal 2011 budget by $765,301 above the 4.5 percent increase approved by the Town Council.”
- The original budget request of the School Committee was for a 4.5% increase in the Town appropriation ($1,263,345).
- The School Department actually received an increase of $129,532 from the Town (0.5%).
- If the referendum passes, the School Department will receive a total increase in Town appropriations of $894,833 (including the $129,532 referenced above) for a total increase in Town appropriations for the schools of 3.2%.
- Because of declines in revenue from the state and other sources, the School Department’s total budget will increase by 1.5% if the referendum passes.
- As it stands now, our total budget for this year is less than it was for last year.
Assertion: “The school budget now stands at $39 million with a $517,000 surplus from 2010 budget.”
- I think the authors must be referring to the balance sheet showing fund balance from the School Department’s FY 2009 audit. I have attached this page from the audit with some notations.
- As noted, of the $516,965 of unreserved fund balance at that time, $200,000 was expended in FY 2010 and $200,000 is budgeted for FY 2011, leaving a balance of $116,965.
- We do anticipate having additional fund balance at the close of the FY2010 audit, which we will have in January. Again, we would earmark $200,000 for the next fiscal year and the district’s 5-year plan shows using any remaining fund balances to mitigate coming reductions in State Aid due to the new funding formula and to federal aid due to the end of the stimulus package.
Assertion: The increase was demanded without any consideration of increasing the co-pay for health insurance or modifying pay increases.
- We are in negotiations with our teachers which include negotiating salary and benefit packages.
Assertion: “Teachers receive longevity and cost-of-living increases every year without fail and can make up to $10,000 per month in salary.”
- No, no, and no.
- Teachers start receiving longevity at 20 years of service in Portsmouth. Longevity provides an additional $1,200 per year for years 20-24; $1,250 for years 25-29, and $1,300 per year for years 30 and above. Longevity payments have been frozen at these amounts since the 2007-2008 school year.
- In 2009-2010 no teacher received a cost-of-living increase; in 2008-2009 only teachers on Step 10 (about half the bargaining unit) received a COLA. Other teachers have received their step increases, but no COLAs; the steps have been frozen since 2008-2009.
- Portsmouth teachers cannot make up to $10,000 per month in salary. Given that teachers work 10 months per year, this would be a salary of $100,000. Our top step is $71,577. Even with additional payments such as longevity, coaching, etc., our teachers do not approach $100,000 per year in salary.
Assertion: “The School Department budget has increased more than 78 percent since 2004.”
- This is grossly inaccurate.
- The School Department’s approved operating budget in 2004 was $26,170,614; our operating budget for this year, if the referendum passes, will be $35,527,720. This is an increase of 35.8%. I have not done the calculations around increased cost of living, etc., over this period, but the editorial overstates our increases by more than 100%.
- If you are wondering about our restricted funds, they totaled $1,628,508 in 2004 and $1,415,288 this year – a reduction of 13%.
I recognize that people have differing opinions regarding the referendum, but I would hope that people would form those opinions based on accurate information.
Susan F. Lusi, Ph.D