SAD 61 budget passes first test, quietly

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

32 minutes

One comment about whether school officials could have cut deeper to lighten the burden on taxpayers, especially those on fixed incomes and struggling due to a bad economy.

$27,928,764 to be spent on local education.

Add money to keep schools open for community activities, subsidize the food service program and pay for adult education programming and the final tally reaches $28.5 million.

In a nutshell, a crowd of under 100 people Monday night passed the proposed SAD 61 budget for the 2013–14.

Now, the final seal of approval or disapproval occurs on Tuesday, May 21 when area voters head to the polls to cast a “Yes” or “No” as part of the validation referendum.

Unlike past referendum votes, this year’s ballot will carry a second question — whether taxpayers wish to continue the present format of the district budget meeting followed by a validation (“secret ballot”) vote, over the next three years.

Taxpayers can reject the present format and shift to simply a district budget meeting, where warrant articles will be voted upon.

Many support the referendum vote because it allows taxpayers to cast their ballot in their hometowns and do it in secrecy. On Monday night, some initial article votes were conducted by a show of hands. The result was two, three or five “no” votes. Two articles — #15 regarding additional local funds and #16 regarding community use of facilities — required “written” ballots. While the articles passed, the margins were 68–18 and 66–20.

SAD 61 Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Beecher noted that if voters did switch to using just a district budget meeting, they could request that all articles be decided by written ballot.

Cost associated with the two-part system is over $2,000 — mainly the price of printing ballots. Two years ago when voters rejected the budget three times, cost of holding the votes totaled $5,600. Last year, the cost was $3,700.

Quick work

Before taxpayers acted on the 20 articles, SAD 61 Finance Director Sherrie Small gave an overview of the proposed budget. She noted:

• The budget represents an increase of $75,000 over the budget passed in 2007-08.

• The initial budget was up 8.74%, calling for new positions that totaled near $1 million. Over the past three years, 38 positions in SAD 61 had been cut. The Leadership Team (principals and other administrators) made some cuts to reduce the proposed package to a 6.93% increase. Additions include teachers at Songo Locks Elementary School in Grades 1 and 3 to keep class sizes in the 18- to 20-student range. Without additional staff, class sizes would increase to 20 to 22.

• Of the 6.93%, 3.3% of the hike is due to items the district has no control of — one, Governor LePage’s plan to shift teacher retirement costs onto local school systems, and two, increased bonding costs as the result of the federal government sequestering.

• SAD 61 received $1.7 million in state subsidy, but that figure was trimmed by $114,000 due to state curtailments. Small said SAD 61 has already been alerted that a $25,000 subsidy reduction will occur in 2013–14.

Once John Robinson was selected as meeting moderator, action on the first article took place at 6:55 p.m. There were no comments or questions voiced by those in attendance — until the end. Douglas Heuiser of Casco described the budget formulation process “atrocious,” calling for school officials to seriously consider closing additional facilities — such as Sebago Elementary School and Crooked River Adult Education — in wake of declining enrollments, as a way to save taxpayers’ money.

The meeting adjourned at 7:27 p.m.

Now, the budget heads to the polls on May 21.

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