Letter to the Editor, Neighborhood News, Dec 12, 2019

Residents paying their December property tax bill may be interested in next year’s budgets currently before the Hooksett Budget Committee.

Hooksett’s Town Council and School Board have submitted proposed budgets of $19 and $35 million, respectively. These governing bodies have very different approaches to preparing their budgets, and for helping the Budget Committee fulfill its obligation to taxpayers… or hindering it.

Hooksett’s Town Council held lengthy budget meetings on Sept 4 and 18. These were publicly posted on the town’s website, totaled six hours of discussion and presentations, were fully video-recorded, and are detailed in over 1,100 lines of meeting minutes. The town administration’s budget spreadsheets had backup detail justifying almost every accounting line. These materials are all posted at hooksett.org.

In contrast, Hooksett’s School Board provided no public notice of budget discussions on their website. Anemic meeting “minutes” indicate they met about their budget on October 15 for ninety minutes, off camera and in private, surrounding an odd twelve minute public meeting.

I attended the subsequent School Board meeting on Nov 5 to speak about the lack of transparency in school budget preparation, but the board had no reply. The school budget received perhaps thirty minutes of public discussion. Board members made stirring comments about taking a knife to the school administration’s prepared budget, but instead settled upon tweezers to extract a single tiny sliver of $32 thousand, less than 0.1%.

Missing school budget backup 2020-21
Where’s the books?

The Budget Committee had six public meetings about the town budget with town administration present. The school budget, nearly twice as large, only gets two meetings’ worth of school administration attention, and not until December. Requests for missing budget details – provided last year – were denied, on the grounds that the School Board hadn’t requested them. The Budget Committee has pursued legal counsel to obtain information it legally requires.

I am dumbfounded by the lack of transparency, accountability, and concern exhibited by the Hooksett School Board and school administration regarding their budget. I find myself asking, what other areas of education here might also be lacking proper scrutiny?

[Update: The Hooksett Budget Committee only received budget details after submitting two Right To Know requests to school administration. For additional information, the Budget Committee’s public hearing presentation and its supplement to the School Deliberative Session can be found at hooksett.org.]