EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 10, 2012

Public hopes to vote on SAU's budget

By Alex Lippa

---- — PLAISTOW — Members of the Timberlane and Hampstead communities are organizing a petition in hopes of allowing the public to vote on the SAU’s budget.

Donna Green, a member of the Timberlane Budget Committee, believes the SAU has too much power when it comes to running its own budget.

“This is a way for taxpayers to get a control on spending,” Green said. “It’s a needed second balance.”

If the petition is approved by the SAU and eventually voters, it would allow the public to approve or disapprove the SAU budget each school year.

Currently, the SAU creates its own budget which needs to be approved by the SAU Board. Once approved, the SAU holds a public hearing where they can hear feedback on the budget. The SAU is not required to change the budget based on what was said at the public hearing.

Recently, the SAU approved a 3.6 percent increase in the SAU’s budget for the 2013-2014 school year, which primarily covers salaries of high-level administration. Green said only two people showed up at the meeting to voice their opinions and the budget was not changed.

“I just feel that the voters should have a say on this decision,” Green said.

The SAU Board takes the results from the hearing into account and votes on the budget. District’s individual budget committees do not have the power to change the SAU’s budget.

Green has signed a petition, drafted by Jorge Mesa-Tejada of Hampstead. It needs 25 signatures from both the Timberlane and Hampstead School Districts and the petition needs to be accepted by the SAU. It would then turn into a warrant to be voted on at the school district meetings in March.

SAU Board Chairman Michael Mascola said he was not aware of the petition.

“I would be open to it,” Mascola said. “It’s something we have discussed in the past. I haven’t developed an opinion on it either way.”

Green did not write the petition, but has been instrumental in spreading the details of it. She wrote a lengthy entry on her blog in support of it and was planning to collect signatures at Sandown Public Library Saturday.

“The reception has been very good and people are happy to sign it,” Green said. “The challenge is explaining to them what the SAU is and what they do.”

Although Green is a member of the Timberlane Budget Committee, she is doing this as a concerned member of the community.

“It is unfortunate that I happen to be serving on the Budget Committee,” Green said. “I’m doing this as a private citizen. I hope this isn’t viewed as an attack on the SAU.”

Jennifer Caruso of Danville is a parent of children in the Timberlane schools and she believes the administrators’ pay raise was not appropriate.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” Caruso said. “They aren’t tying themselves to performance or otherwise they wouldn’t get any raise at all.”

If the warrant article is approved by voters, the public would be able to influence the SAU budget for the 2014-2015 school year.