On a quiet night, SAD 61 proposed $29.8 million budget passes first test

FEW IN ATTENDANCE — Although 100 chairs were set up in the Lake Region High School gym and bleachers were pulled, most seats went empty at Tuesday's district budget meeting. (Rivet Photo)

FEW IN ATTENDANCE — Although 100 chairs were set up in the Lake Region High School gym and bleachers were pulled, most seats went empty at Tuesday's district budget meeting. (Rivet Photo)

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

On a night when 47 voters passed a total school budget package of $29,831,066 within 35 minutes, the loudest voice in the high school gym belonged to Phil Shane of Casco.

Wearing the hat of a SAD 61 school board member, Shane expressed his concerns regarding the proposed purchase of 3.79 (plus or minus) acres abutting the Songo Locks School property for $70,000 and he strongly pushed for the reopening of Crooked River School for elementary education.

Wearing the hat of taxpayer, Shane believes the property is overpriced and SAD 61 should wait to see what an upcoming engineering study suggests to know how to address parking and traffic issues at Songo Locks, as well as possible future facility expansion.

Checking town assessments and similar sales, Shane felt the asking price should be more in the range of $24,000, not $70,000.

Because the school is landlocked, School Board Chairman Janice Barter, of Naples, said SAD 61 is somewhat “over a barrel” as far as its options to find more land to address some pressing safety problems. Fewer options drives up prices, she added.

“It’s not an unfair price,” Barter said. “There are other properties close to this value.”

By purchasing the acreage, the district could solve a variety of problems, from protecting its well, which was drilled on the adjacent property by accident, to moving the upper playground, thus eliminating young students having to pass through a busy parking area to access the play area.

The additional acreage could also come into play as engineers prepare recommendations on how to address overcrowding as well as developing another entry/exit point. The school has just one entrance and exit, which causes congestion during certain times of the day.

Barter added that another obstacle SAD 61 will likely face, when addressing current problems, will be changes in Maine Department of Environmental Protection guidelines, that did not exist when Songo Locks School was built in 1992. Having additional acreage could help satisfy some of these new regulations.

Shane suggested one solution to overcrowding would be to move a couple of grade levels back to Crooked River School, and ultimately reduce strain on Songo Locks’ septic system, which he claims was designed for 300 and is servicing close to 500 individuals.

“It’s way overused,” said Shane of the 20-year-old septic system.

If voters approve the purchase at the May 26 referendum vote, the district would pay for the property by taking $70,000 from its Capital Reserve Fund, so there would be no additional increase in the proposed budget, Superintendent Al Smith pointed out.

Once the hearing regarding the land acquisition ended, after 15 minutes of discussion, the meeting moved on to the overall proposed budget. Although school custodians had set up 100 chairs and pulled out bleacher seating, the gym was quite empty. According to town clerks, the breakdown of voters was as follows:

Bridgton: 15

Casco: 12

Naples: 10

Sebago: 10

The low turnout will likely lead SAD 61 officials to reconsider the current budget validation method. 2015 is the second year of a three-year method of voting. The present method is the Budget Validation Referendum, which calls for a district budget meeting followed by a referendum vote on a separate day — this year, it is Tuesday, May 26 in each of the four SAD 61 towns. The district could revert back to a meeting and vote on the same night.

At Tuesday’s district budget meeting, town clerks and assistants tended tables set up for their respective towns. Registered voters were given pink cards, which were stamped when they filled out “written” ballots, as required by law, for Article 15 (Additional Local Funds, money needed to fund extra-curricular and athletic programs, along with substitute pay, maintenance, transportation, special education and technology, which the state’s funding formula — EPS — does not fund. Total: $4,676,661) and Article 16 (Community Use of Facilities, $50,000).

There was no discussion by those in attendance on any warrant article. The meeting ended at 7:35 p.m.

 

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