Hannibal Board Members Refuse to Adopt Budget, Think About Defying State

Members of the Hannibal Board of Education sent their anger in all directions Wednesday night. They were angry with the teachers’ union, with the state, and, at times, with each other as they decided not to decide on a budget and thought out loud about defying the state.

They learned at the start of the meeting that the gap in the proposed 2011-12 budget between spending and income is $529,369. The deficit equals about a 7.75% increase in the tax levy if no spending cuts are made and no money is taken from district reserves.

That number assumes that all district programs, services and employees would be kept at the current year’s levels, with increases or decreases factored in where the number was known. The number assumes that all employees will accept no pay increase for next year. All union contracts expire at the end of this school year.

But board members were angry because they said the union that represents teachers turned down their demand for a zero-increase contract for next year.

“We asked everyone to take a freeze,” said board president Matt Henderson. “We were told ‘no’. There was some sugarcoating on some of those responses but we were told ‘no’.”

“We could make this budget work by cutting the education of our kids,” he continued. “But then what are we? We’re just a place writing paychecks.”

“You’re destroying our kids’ education,” he said to union members. “It’s not working. It’s flat out not working.”

“We did not ask any unit to take pay cuts,” said board member Madeline Pittorf. “Just freezes. Our kids have been cutting for the last five years.”

The board had intended to make basic decisions about the budget Wednesday night. Their agenda called for setting a tax levy and adopting the budget after a final review of expenses and income. But the failed talks with the teachers’ union left most of them in no mood to adopt a budget.

Henderson even proposed ignoring the state’s April 22 legal deadline for adopting a budget. “I don’t want to discuss a budget unless we get a zero out of HFA (the teachers’ union, the Hannibal Faculty Association). If that goes beyond the deadline, so be it.”

Board member Mike LaFurney said the board had a legal duty to adopt a budget, “even if that means cutting every program.”

“That’s asinine,” said Henderson.

“So’s not adopting a budget,” replied LaFurney.

Board member Fred Patane noted that he has said in the past that the board should think about defying the state, but said he wouldn’t do that this year. “If this was gonna be on me alone, I’d tell the state to pound it. But we represent the community.” Later, he added, “If the state steps in and knocks us [board members] out, they’re gonna screw us worse.”

“It’s irresponsible,” said board member Erin Hess. “With all of these people here, how do we say to them, ‘We’re not going to vote on a budget this year’? We’re going to break the law?”

“What about the class of 2014,” asked Henderson. “How irresponsible is it to do the same thing over and over again? We’re sliding downhill. We have good staff, but they’re working with less every year.”

The board rejected three proposals on a tax levy. Proposals to set the levy at 3% and zero failed 6-2 while a proposal to set the levy at 2% failed on a 4-4 tie. One board member was absent. They declined to use money from the district’s reserve fund to help lower the deficit.  They set a board meeting for Thursday, April 21 to adopt a budget.  That’s the day before the state deadline.