Monday night, Milton School and Selectboard members gathered for their third joint meeting of the year as a discussion on facilities use, financial services and a capital improvement plan lingers.
Milton leaders first addressed the financial services agreement, which remains in limbo. Superintendent Ann Bradshaw said the district hired an auditor to study possible efficiencies in both the district and the town finance offices. The completed report was expected Tuesday, Oct. 31.
Currently, the town performs payroll and accounts payable for the school. The district wants to know if it could save money by hiring an in-house finance employee, who would also perform administrative tasks in the Herrick Ave. office.
The Oct. 30 meeting served as a check-in point from a July conversation; the boards were aiming for an agreement by year’s end. But because the report wasn’t expected until the following day, the district requested more time to review its findings.
The district has paid the town half of its $160,000 fee for FY18 and hoped the study would identify possible savings for the latter half of the fiscal year.
However, town manager Don Turner stressed the delay leaves a town finance employee’s job up in the air. As such, the school board voted to continue finance services as-is until the end of FY18.
Turner also noted he’s holding a vacancy in the finance department until the school board makes the final call. The two parties will meet by December 15, about a month before FY19 budgets are due for Town Meeting. The district will unveil the financial services report at its Nov. 13 meeting, Bradshaw said.
School board chairwoman Lori Donna guessed the district paid up to $3,000 for the report; Bradshaw couldn’t confirm the total, saying it was around a 20-hour contracted effort.
The auditor looked at the district office’s production and also met with Turner, town treasurer John Gifford and town finance staff.
Selectboard vice-chairman Ken Nolan was incredulous over the limited opportunity for the town’s input, saying the town will apparently have to adapt to the district’s decision. Donna apologized, saying trustees didn’t plan it that way.
Another combative agenda item – the unresolved facilities use agreement – dominated discussion then. Both Bradshaw and Turner have met to discuss the situation and came up with their respective preferred policies.
Recreation coordinator Kym Duchesneau gathered data showing what area rec departments pay to use school facilities. South Burlington rec pays $3,000 annually, while Colchester pays a $125 half-day fee on weekends; use of school property is free on weekdays, she reported.
Bradshaw offered a caveat before Turner explained the town’s preferences: No one wants to increase rec user fees or decrease programming.
Turner said he favors keeping the policy as it is: Recreation uses school space at no charge on weekdays but pays $25 per hour on weekends, which includes 30 minutes before and after the event.
Option No. 2 suggests splitting recreation’s net profit — about $1,400 for FY17 — equally between the town and district. Here, the district’s half would offset its financial services fee from the town. Recreation participants would see little to no increase in cost, and only events with fees would contribute.
In its third option, the town offered to pay $2,000 annually to use district indoor facilities. There would be no charge for outdoor facilities, because both entities use one other’s space, Turner suggested.
Or, Turner said the town would cease using these spaces altogether, an option he doesn’t want to pursue but is possible. Either way, he said town facilities would remain costless for district field trips.
Bradshaw rebutted with a plan that an irritated Nolan noted combined Turner’s ideas. She said the district would assess the town $50 per hour for field use, or up to about $2,500 annually, Bradshaw’s calculations show. The town would also play a $2,000 annual fee, half of the approximate $1,400 net and the cost of custodial, cafeteria and maintenance service for programs held outside normal staff hours, including 30 minutes before and 60 minutes after an event.
That would bring annual costs to $6,650 total, Bradshaw said, noting the expensive equipment involved in maintaining the space.
“We’re not at a stalemate at all, and we want to work together and come to a good solution,” she said.
Donna said the board wasn’t ready to make a decision. The agreement will be discussed further once Turner and Bradshaw return to the table with more direction, the town manager said.
Bradshaw added that school facilities director Bruce Cheeseman and town public works supervisor Dustin Keelty are researching how the two entities can find savings together. This includes possible joint purchasing of fuel, equipment and a shared public works facility.
Turner said the town already orders paper through the district for far less than it would pay otherwise.
“I would certainly like to continue to try to build that relationship, because I think it’s very beneficial for both [the district and town],” Cheeseman said.
Both sides concurred.
Cheeseman, Keelty and school business manager Don Johnson said they are drafting a joint capital improvement plan for trustees to review December 1.
Turner and Bradshaw also said they’re developing a five-year school resource officer agreement by January 1.