SAD 61 budget passes

By Wayne E. Rivet
Staff Writer

SAD 61 finally has an approved budget for 2011-12.

By an 86-vote margin, the $26.6 million budget received taxpayer approval Tuesday. Like the July vote, the budget was rejected in Casco and Sebago, but a higher turnout in Bridgton and Naples proved to be the difference. Here’s the breakdown:

Bridgton: 378 yes and 287 no — plus 91
Naples: 264 yes and 199 no — plus 65
Casco: 181 yes and 191 no — minus 10
Sebago: 83 yes and 143 no — minus 60
Final tally: 906 yes, 820 no.

The third validation vote saw turnout jump from just 8% of the Lake Region’s registered voters to 15%. The first vote saw 853 residents head to the polls, while the figure jumped to 964 casting ballots last month.

Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kathleen Beecher has a very good idea why the third vote, despite taxpayers adding $75,000 to the budget (restoring a Grade 1 teacher at Stevens Brook Elementary and community use of facilities funds), was successful.

“I appreciate that so many more residents came out to vote this time. I think the group that made the difference in this vote was the parent group. Many parents were asking questions so they could talk about the budget in an informed way. Parents were blogging, e-mailing, talking, and writing on Facebook about the budget and getting out the vote,” Dr. Beecher said.

Seeing two budget tries fail, Dr. Beecher said SAD 61 leaders learned some valuable lessons from the experience and will make some changes in the future.

“In many ways, we will be transparent as we go through the budget process and build the budget for school year 2012-13. I will be asking all stakeholders for their ideas about areas where they believe we are overspending. The way we ask for ideas will also be transparent, so voters can see other residents’ comments and questions along with their own,” Dr. Beecher said. “For example, based on what I’ve heard over the last few weeks, one area that some people think could be reduced more is the sports/co-curricular budget. This is an example of an idea that administrators and the school board would need to get public input on prior to the budget process.”

Dr. Beecher added, “It is apparent that residents need a great deal more information about per pupil costs and what is different about our district compared to similar sized districts. One district I am interested in is Gray/New Gloucester (SAD 15) because that district is near us with lower per pupil costs. I am actually meeting with the SAD 15 superintendent this Friday to compare budgets and begin to understand what is being done differently. At this point, I know that that district does charge a fee for sports and activities. For example, if a student wanted to play football, the family would be paying $175.”

Keeping taxpayers informed during the entire budget process will be another goal. School board and budget meetings will be posted on the district's calendar, which is at the bottom of the Lake Region Schools website home page at www.lakeregionschools.org

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