Hannibal Board of Education President Matt Henderson resigned suddenly Monday night, a decision caused by what he called the board’s irresponsible decision to adopt a budget.
The board last Thursday adopted a budget and set a tax levy increase at 2% at the end of a two-hour meeting in which several other options — ranging from a zero percent tax increase to the full 7% increase needed to keep all programs — were shot down. The board also directed the district to use $200,000 of its unappropriated reserves, a move that the district’s business official, Nancy Henner, had strongly urged the board not to do. Henner was not present for last Thursday’s special meeting.
The budget’s spending level assumes that district unions will accept a freeze on pay, longevity and educational increases. The district and its largest union, the teachers union, failed to agree on concessions and no new talks are underway. The Board of Education demanded no pay increase along with no increases for longevity and educational improvement. The union counter-offered a plan that had no pay increase next year but kept step, longevity and educational increases and extended the contract for two extra years. The board stuck to its demand for what it called “absolute zero” and talks broke off.
Against that backdrop, the board struggled to find agreement on a budget. At its last two budget meetings, proposals to set the budget were made and defeated. Henderson thought out loud that the board should consider defying the state deadline for budget approval, believing that the deadline put the board at a disadvantage in its talks with its unions.
The outcome of Thursday’s special meeting left Henderson furious, he said in a phone interview hours before he planned to resign at Monday’s meeting.
“What we did last Thursday setting a budget picked out of thin air was the most irresponsible thing that the board or the district has ever done,” he said. “If people thought my holding out (on the state budget deadline) was irresponsible, this was far more irresponsible.”
Henderson said the budget is built on the assumption of “zeroes from our bargaining units that we don’t have” and which he believes become less likely with each passing day. “You think they’ll (the unions) let us attack health insurance, longevity stipends, coaching stipends?”
He said the budget “was abusive to taxpayers and it did no favors to our students.”
Henderson said he could not be a part of the board after Thursday’s decision. “I’m embarrassed. I hate the fact that I’m walking away from it. But things have to make sense and this makes no sense whatsoever.”
Henderson’s decision comes too late to allow the vacancy to be filled by voters in the May election. Only one person, incumbent Madeline Pittorf, is running for the only open seat. It’s a one-year term, created by the resignation of longtime member Donna Blake earlier this year.
Superintendent of Schools Mike DiFabio said the district will consult its lawyer to see if there is another option, but it appears most likely that the board that Henderson criticized will fill his open seat.