Casco board shuffles dates for school budget hearing
By Dawn De Busk
CASCO — How’s that for a show of support?
Local elected officials from the Town of Casco shuffled their schedules to attend the public hearing for their regional school district.
The Casco Board of Selectmen already meets on alternate Tuesdays. Currently, the meetings happen on the first and third Tuesday.
So, the selectmen have foregone any other plans on their free time Tuesday and marked down May 16 as the date to be at the budget hearing for School Administrative District (SAD) 61.
On Tuesday, the selectmen had invited SAD 61 Superintendent Al Smith to their meeting to talk about the proposed budget. Smith provided a quick synopsis of the budget, which was still fresh in his mind from the school board meeting the night before.
He commended the budget committee’s perseverance in making cuts that did not sacrifice the quality of education.
“The budget committee started out with a budget (that had) a seven percent increase, now that’s down to (a) 2.6-percent” increase, Smith said.
“Our thinking was: How we could do creative thinking to reduce the budget so there would be less impact on the taxpayers,” he said.
One savings was seen by removing from the budget money allotted for upgrades because those improvement projects were done sooner and the costs were already accounted for.
Also, upcoming maintenance projects would be paid using Capital Reserve Fund.
Smith paused, saying that municipalities call that account by another name.
“Undesignated Reserve Fund,” said Selectman Mary-Vinessa Fernandes. (She asked how much would be leftover in fund.)
Smith referred the board members to the page that provided the property assessments for the towns included in SAD 61.
According to Casco Town Manager Dave Morton, the town’s share of the school budget amounts to 35 cents on the mil rate.
Smith was hopeful that there would be a silver lining in the clouds — money that might be reimbursed before the budget vote.
“The one caveat is: we may be able to reduce that. Our insurance money percentage came in lower than anticipated,” he said.
If that savings were to happen, the monetary change could be made during the budget meeting, he said.
Selectman Grant Plummer clarified what would happen during the budget hearing.
“When we go through this process of voting, we have the hearing where we discuss the budget. We vote ‘yea or nay’ on each article,” Plummer said.
Smith said, “It goes through the entire budget piece.”
“The voters will be asked if they are willing to move $1.3 million from a capital reserve, and if they are willing to spend on these projects,” Smith said.
Plummer was referring to the capital reserve projects, which include purchasing two buses plus parking lot upgrades at both Lake Region Middle School and Songo Locks School.
“This article will go to vote,” Plummer clarified.
Smith nodded his head.
Chairman Holly Hancock said, “Yes, on the 16th (of May) this is voted on.”
Plummer suggested that the school district make the public aware that the necessary upgrades and top-listed purchases will be paid for from existing funding.
“I think it is important to put the word out that this is money that we already have,” Plummer said. “And, these are projects that are needed. You should do what you can to support these projects.”
Smith said, “We are putting the money where it needs to be spent.”
Plummer said, “Get the people there.”
Smith had opened the floor for questions; and Selectman Thomas Peaslee asked about proposed legislation in Augusta.
Peaslee was referring to LD 51 (HP 37).
“It’s about a single town seceding from the district,” Peaslee said.
Smith elaborated on the legislation.
“LD 51 could be interesting bill if it passes,” he said. “It came out of Hancock County. I think it was sponsored by someone from Hancock County. They had a situation where smaller community has pulled away from larger. They felt they had no place to go.”
“If that type of event should take place, it would go to mediation,” he said. “The only people voting on a proposal are in the town that is trying to secede.”
“I was disappointed to see that bill come through. It was tacked onto a food bill,” Smith said. “Frye Island and Bethel both have issues of pulling away from districts.”
With no further questions, Smith said good evening to the selectmen.
“We adjusted our schedule so we could be there on the 16th,” Chairman Hancock said.
“Thanks for being here. We have been trying to get you here,” Fernandes said.