SAD 61 clears hurdle, deep concerns aired

By Wayne E. Rivet
Staff Writer

CASTING NO VOTES — Elaine Heuiser of Casco raises her blue card to indicate a “no” vote on one of the warrant articles at Tuesday’s SAD 61 District Budget Meeting held at Lake Region High School. Heuiser called for cuts in wake of tough economic times. (Rivet Photo)

Although the SAD 61 proposed $26,838,233 budget cleared its first hurdle Tuesday night, a red flag may have been raised.

School officials told 79 voters they made many tough decisions to produce a budget that has the best interest of children and taxpayers in mind.

Initially, there was little discussion on the first 11 warrant articles as voters approved recommended figures (see Page 5A for breakdowns).

Yet, Elaine Heuiser of Casco reminded school officials that a depressed economy has resulted in many losing their jobs, while others fear their homes could be foreclosed upon.

“There are people in the community that can’t afford any more money coming out of their pockets (especially as everything keeps going up, like $4 for milk and gas is at $4 per gallon). It would be wise to make some cuts,” she said. “People are already strapped. Education is important, but have you really researched whether or not people can afford this (the proposed budget)? We have no place to go to get more money, and this economy will only get worse.”

Superintendent Patrick Phillips pointed out that limiting taxpayers’ burden has been a major consideration over the past six years, especially as SAD 61 continued to lose state aid under the Essential Programs and Services funding formula.

“The board has worked hard to keep the expenditure budget at a bare minimum. Our costs — labor, fuel, paper, food — are inflating, just like households,” he said. “Yet, we’ve managed an average expenditure increase of less than 1 percent per year.”

Finance Director Janice Barter of Naples said SAD 61 has been “handcuffed” financially by the state, which has deemed the Lake Region as “land rich,” thus cutting education aid and creating a greater burden for local taxpayers.

One line creating a major impact on the budget is Debt Service. With SAD 61 starting the high school renovation project, the district saw its debt service jump $705,5554 to a proposed $1,093,460.

Naples Selectman Rick Paraschak said the proposed budget would have a “major impact” on the town’s tax rate. “It’s a huge number — a big hit,” he said.

With all articles passing, moderator Steve Collins of Bridgton closed the meeting at 7:54 p.m. Now, taxpayers head to the polls Tuesday to decide whether or not “to validate” the district budget meeting vote. A “no” would send the budget back to school offi cials for reconsideration.

Other points of the night:

Sports cuts. When Athletic Director Paul True was asked to cut his budget by 5%, he considered elimination of sports, which had displayed low participation numbers. Three programs — high school and middle school Nordic skiing and boys’ varsity tennis — will be eliminated if the proposed budget passes.

True said there were cases this past winter that the Nordic ski coach accompanied just one racer to a meet. Numbers were also initially low for boys’ tennis (4 to 6), but increased later (12 to 14 on any given day). True is open to the idea of parent groups fundraising to bring the sports back, as well as instituting a payto- play fee (which is currently used to help fund the varsity boys’ lacrosse team and varsity ice hockey program).

Brook Sulloway of Bridgton proposed to add $20,000 to the budget to keep the “lifetime sports,” but his motion failed.

John Tingley of Naples suggested the school work with community groups to help fund these sports. “Sports are important, but schools have to teach children first.” Tingley would hate to see younger children go without books, while money is spent on sports teams. A Sebago woman echoed that thought, feeling more funds should go to the Math and Science teams.

Board chairman resigns.

Saying he is “disenfranchised” with “certain individuals” on the school board, Wayne Warner of Bridgton resigned Monday night. Having served six years on the school board, of which three years he was chairman, Warner cited “my health and welfare” as reasons for his resignation in a letter to the superintendent. Warner has two years remaining on his term.

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