$75,000 added, but will budget pass?

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

The SAD 61 School Board cut $75,000 as an attempt to gain voter support at the polls, after seeing two other budgets fail.

Some taxpayers, however, feel the axe has cut too deep.

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Will the SAD 61 budget pass taxpayer muster this Tuesday?

Voters return to the polls on Tuesday, Aug. 9 for the school budget validation vote. Polls will be open in the four district towns — Bridgton Town Hall, Casco Community Center, Naples Town Hall and Sebago Town Hall — from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.


With about 130 voters in attendance Tuesday night at Lake Region High School, taxpayers restored funding for a Grade 1 teacher at Stevens Brook Elementary School and $35,000 to fund community use of school facilities.

Thus, the budget headed for the district validation vote next Tuesday represents the same package that was rejected by 16 votes last month.

“We’re going to be right back here again,” Sebago Director Richard Merritt predicted following the 2 ½ hour session. “In my opinion, we needed to cut more to get this thing done.”

Fellow Sebago Director Greg Smith echoed that thought. “The cuts we made did not affect student instruction, and we tried to get to a lower budget number that hopefully voters would pass so we can get back to business of educating our children,” he said. “Now, we’re right back to the same number as before, which was voted down.”

Former SAD 61 director Ken Brown shared that thought when he opened the meeting by seeking a $55,000 reduction by eliminating a Fine Arts teacher at Lake Region High School. Brown pointed out that students need just one Fine Arts credit to graduate, and that requirement could be achieved without a dance instructor. LRHS Principal Ted Finn had recommended that cut, but the school board saved the position, feeling the high school had already taken a deep reduction (8.5 positions).

School Board member Janice Barter asked Brown to amend the amount to $37,000 to meet terms of the teachers’ contract in reference to a position being eliminated less than 60 days to the start of a new school year.

Brown’s motivation to make the cut was learning that in SAD 61, there have been 1,700 tax liens — which he found as “staggering.”

He also pointed out that seniors will not realize any increase in Social Security benefits, thus will be hard pressed to pay a higher school tax.

“These are some of the things

I am basing my decisions on,” Brown said.

Voters, however, rejected that cut.

Parents rallied to restore a Grade 1 teacher at Stevens Brook by a narrow 58-53 margin. The school board had cut the position based on enrollment figures. Without the position, SBES first grade classrooms would carry a class size of 19 students, the same number presently seen at Songo Locks School.

Amy Mayo of Bridgton pointed out that SBES has a high percentage (62%) of youngsters coming from economically-disadvantaged homes, and require more attention.

Ron Bell of Naples, a former school board member, asked whether cuts were made to the central office line, seeing that directors had cut over $300,000 at the high school. Bell proposed the elimination of the assistant superintendent position, a savings of $80,000. Considering the economic times, Bell felt the post is somewhat of a luxury, and the job responsibilities could be spread around amongst other administrators. Under the state’s Essential Programs and

Services formula, SAD 61 is slightly over the recommended number — 7.5 to 6.2.

The amendment failed 89-40.

Community Use funds were returned after the audience heard comments from Kevin Murphy regarding the bleak future of the before/after childcare program at Stevens Brook if the organization were suddenly charged a user fee. Casco Rec Director Beth Latsey predicted parents would face a “doubling” of fees for youth activities that required use of school facilities. And, Janet Ver Planck of Lake Region Community Theatre said a user fee would be devastating to the nonprofit group that is already operating on a “shoestring” budget.

Bob Neault of Naples called the elimination of community use funds as a “false cut,” since taxpayers will be “forced to pick-up the costs anyway” in higher user fees. Bell added the move doesn’t send a good message. “It tells people not to use the buildings, which we already pay for,” he said.

When discussion turned to the maintenance budget, Casco Town Manager David Morton reiterated his disappointment that the school board refused to cut $125,000 — targeted for PCB removal — the from maintenance budget. Morton felt the money should have been taken from the high school construction/renovation project.

“I am disappointed the school board chose to eliminate people and programs over bricks and mortar. It’s always a poor choice,” he said.

The $125,000 from the maintenance line addresses windows and doorways in other parts of the school, not those located in areas to be renovated, Director Janice Barter pointed out.

There was little discussion as meeting moderator Neal Allen worked his way through the final five articles, each passing with just a few “nay” votes breaking the silence inside the gym.

Now, the question is, will the “nay” votes be louder on Tuesday?

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