Price tag to towns

By Wayne E. Rivet
Staff Writer

How big a cut in school spending is too deep or not deep enough?

There was no clear answer when SAD 61 school board members cast their votes as to what amount they would propose to local taxpayers at the May 21 budget referendum meeting.

Director Richard Merritt of Sebago suggested a $700,000 reduction to bring the General Fund budget to $25,821,000. The motion failed: Yes 5, No 6.

Director Janice Barter of Naples proposed a $400,000 cut for a General Fund budget of $26,121,005. By a narrow margin (6-5), this motion passed.

With SAD 61 falling to a minimum state aid receiver status under the current Essential Programs and Services funding formula, the district will receive an $833,000 subsidy, Superintendent of Schools Patrick Phillips reported.

Trying to develop a budget that would meet children’s educational needs and respect the ability of taxpayers to pay the freight, the Finance Committee initially asked to see a budget with a $1.1 million cut.

[stextbox id="info" float="true" align="right" width="250"]

Town-Assessment-Increase

Bridgton, $8,084,047, $317,554 (4.09%)

Casco, $6,057,704, $717,293 (13.43%)

Naples, $6,964,622, $447,799 (6.87%)

Sebago, $3,259,335, $149,912 (4.82%)

[/stextbox]

Times are tough across the four-town school district. It was reported that Sebago has written 58 tax liens, which represents a 38% increase, while Casco has 258 tax liens.

Then, there are new expenses ($705,000) SAD 61 will face due to construction of a new educational/maintenance building as well as renovations scheduled for the high school/vocational center.

To meet that target, class sizes would be increased and various programs, such as the Creative Fine Arts (CFA) at Lake Region Middle School, would be either cut or greatly reduced.

Ultimately, directors reinstated $100,000 for middle school CFA teachers (music, art, physical education, health, home economics and woodworking technology), which was initially targeted for a 1/3 reduction.

Items to fall under the budget axe include:

• LRHS staff reductions (4.5 teachers, 1 clerk, 1 ed tech, 1 permanent sub, 1 stipend, $283,710). Elimination of the Family Consumer Science program.

• LRMS staff reductions (4 teachers, $325,000)

• LRVC School to Work (1 teacher, $57,854).

• District-Wide Literacy Specialist (1 teacher, $75,000).

• Energy savings (electricity upgrade, fuel, $18,000).

Level II reductions included:

Pre-K, $150,000

K-12 supplies, equipment, $57,000

Special Ed teacher, LRHS, $57,000

Autism Consulting teacher, $35,000

LRMS in-school suspension monitor, $25,000

LRHS in-school suspension monitor, $25,000

LRMS athletics/co-curricular, $8,000

LRHS athletics/co-curricular, $12,000

District-Wide curriculum, $19,000

MS Transitions Program, $45,000

Technology software/hardware, $48,000

Adult Education, $54,000

The proposed budget does call for four program additions:

• 8th Grade Transition Program, $175,000 (2 teachers, transportation, space, supplies).

• Elementary Literacy coaches (2), K-2 or 3 to start, $145,000.

LRVC Co-op and Law Enforcement (1.5 teachers), $79,594.

Pre-K Program (1 teacher, 1 ed tech, transportation, supplies), $150,000. This program was previously paid with federal funds.

Declining enrollment at the high school (over 700 four years ago to an expected 565 this fall) and low interest in some offerings were the basis of some cuts. With six secretaries in the building, job descriptions will be reworked to cover attendance and in-school suspension. LRHS Principal Ted Finn reported that over 222 students were sent to in-school suspension in one quarter. The current behavior and discipline code will be reviewed.

The public can weigh in on the proposed budget on Monday, March 21 at 6 p.m. at Songo Locks School in Naples.

One item Superintendent Phillips had hoped to include on March 21 was voter action to allow SAD 61 to spend $250,000 from the Capital Reserve Fund on PCBs removal at Lake Region High School and disposal of the hazardous material.

However, school board director rejected the idea by a 7-2 margin Monday night during their meeting at Lake Region Middle School.

With an estimated price tag of over $1 million, Phillips proposed to fund the unexpected project using three sources — Capital Reserve Fund money, Revolving Renovation Funds and $125,000 over the next two years from the district’s maintenance budget.

It would appear SAD 61 caught a break when it received a bid of $538,000 for removal and disposal by an out-of-state firm. Two other bids topped $1 million. Andy Madura, director of Transportation, Maintenance and Food Service, said an additional $300,000 will be needed for testing, as required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Madura predicted that if the district failed to act within the bid acceptance deadline (March 25), SAD 61 would certainly face higher numbers if the project went back out for bids.

Before the district accepts the low bid, Superintendent Phillips told the school board he would feel “more comfortable” knowing funding was in place to start the work.

To move the process along quickly to meet the bid acceptance deadline, the superintendent suggested that a public vote on releasing Capital Reserve Funds (designated for “unexpected” projects, such as a bad septic system or in this case detection of hazardous PCBs in the caulking surrounding exterior windows and doors) be held at the March 21 hearing.

Superintendent Phillips saw this type of vote, which has been cleared by the district’s attorney, as both expedient and cost efficient. A referendum vote costs $3,000 to $4,000 due to the need to print special ballots as well as having to pay clerks to man the polls from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Not all school members shared the superintendent’s viewpoint.

Casco Director Laurie Mondville disliked the idea of giving taxpayers a short window (likely 10 to 20 minutes) to vote on the matter of using Capital Reserve Funds. Because of work schedules, some taxpayers may not be able to attend the opening of the March 21 hearing, which the vote would be taken. A referendum enables taxpayers to get to the polls, at their convenience, Mondville argued.

Other school board members, led by Casco Director Donna Norton, questioned why SAD 61 could not use portions of the $14 million to be spent on LRHS renovation to cover the PCBs work until voters could act upon the Capital Reserve Fund question at the May 21 budget referendum.

“If the $250,000 was voted down, would it stop the project?” Vice Chairman Jody Gray of Bridgton asked.

Superintendent Phillips simply said, “No.” He did, however, say that the high school project could be altered, before being sent out to bid, to reflect the possible loss of $250,000. Items that could be removed include elimination of some new classroom space, such as the dance room, as well as air conditioning for vocational classroom outfitted with computers. Bids go out March 15.

“We need to be able to tell contractors how work will unfold,” Phillips said.

When directors rejected the March 21 vote on the Capital Reserve Funds, Superintendent Phillips said he would meet with Finance Coordinator Sherrie Small and Madura on Tuesday to seek out other options.

Please follow and like us: