SAD 61 proposed budget up $272,182; Bridgton hit hardest

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Area selectmen and town managers always keep their fingers crossed at this time of the year as they await news of how much their school tax will be.

As do area taxpayers.

Well, for three of the four SAD 61 towns, the news is quite good. The proposed 2016-17 budget stands at $29,383,898. Add Adult Ed at $599,328, the grand total is $29,978,226 — up .93% over a year ago.

The increase to local taxpayers is $272,182.

For Naples and Sebago, those towns will see a decrease in their assessments. Naples is down $48,553 while Sebago drops $85,334. Naples’ contribution is $7,346,822, and Sebago checks in at $3,031,138.

Casco, which took a big hit a year ago, would see a $79,815 increase to $6,482,684.

Bridgton stands to take the major hit this time around, looking at an increase of $326,255 — a local contribution number of $9,520,838.

When Superintendent of Schools Al Smith recently met with Bridgton selectmen, he thought there would be good news for the town as the Finance Committee whittled down requests and expenses to bring forth a package that would call for a 1% or lower hike.

But, when the district later ran school enrollment figures, which Smith said is a major factor in determining local share, Bridgton experienced the most student population growth, thus the town was hit with a higher school tax.

Bridgton’s climb hasn’t been astronomical, but steady compared to the other three towns, which experienced decreases in student numbers. Here’s a look at the enrollment numbers (K-8, high school, total)

Year: 2013

Bridgton 435/179/614

Casco 293/150/443

Naples 378/145/523

Sebago 131/63/194

Total: 1774

Year: 2014

Bridgton 444/172/616

Casco 306/141/447

Naples 385/153/538

Sebago 128/64/192

Total: 1793

Year: 2015

Bridgton 441/185/626

Casco 305/123/428

Naples 380/150/530

Sebago 125/61/186

Total: 1770

A public hearing will be held this Monday, March 21, at 6 p.m. in the Lake Region Vocational Center Great Room.

How did they get there?

Every year is challenge to provide the best quality education for local students while also being “respectful” of what taxpayers can afford.

Superintendent Smith noted at the conclusion of last Wednesday’s meeting, the Finance Committee and the district’s Leadership Team was able to deliver a budget that addresses needs yet also requires a small bump in taxes.

How did they reach the proposed $29,978,226 figure?

Smith noted that it was achieved without cutting staff, other than when a program was eliminated due to low participation numbers, such as Business Office Technologies (savings of $87,537) at the high school or the district decided against filling a position when a person left the school system or retired.

However, other programs such as the vocational center’s Fire Science program expanded from halftime to full-time ($29,568 to $53,147) to accommodate the second year program.

One budget area — Special Education — saw a dramatic change, down $180,784, to $4,904,312. Staff changes (including reduction of five ed techs) and adjusted projections resulted in the decrease.

Athletic Director Paul True requested an additional stipend to hire an assistant ($13,410) to oversee games and activities at the middle school. True is often tied up with administrative duties at the high school, and is unable to be at the middle school fields, leaving the district open to liability. The assistant would also attempt to increase student participation in athletics and co-curricular activities. A job description will be developed.

More guidance counseling/social work time was added at Songo Locks School and Lake Region Middle School.

Staff changes in the Student and Staff Support budget resulted in a decrease of $165,990. Smith noted that “staff changes” resulting in budget reductions could also be that the district has hired someone who comes at a lesser cost than the employee he/she is replacing.

Andy Madura, director of Transportation, Grounds and Food Service, felt the district has reached a point that hiring its own mechanic — to repair district vehicles as well as tractors and lawnmowers — would save money in the long run rather than shipping out work. So, the budget includes $15,267 to pay for the position (a reduction in bus lease/purchases will help reduce the total cost).

Due to new federal regulations requiring the offering of more fresh fruits and vegetables in the school lunch program, the Food Service account had to be bumped up another $50,000 to $100,000.

Down the road, the district will need to tap into its capital reserve (presently at $250,000) to address three major projects — reconfiguring of entrances at Songo Locks School and Lake Region Middle School, as well as resurfacing of the high school track. Another project on the “to do” list will be replacement of air conditioning in the high school auditorium.

The district will also realize a $96,386 savings with the modular lease at Songo Locks School coming to an end, and $41,761 reduction as one of two loans associated with the high school revolving renovation fund coming to a close.

SAD 61 will also see a $71,083 interest cost reduction in one of its bonds.

Officials used some of its surplus — $900,000 — to pare down the proposed budget. Smith said the state suggests districts keep a surplus of 3% on hand while auditors like to see 7%. The district would like to stay somewhere in the middle, like 5%. By keeping a certain level, the district is able to make summer payments without having to borrow money (and pay interest) as it waits for towns to pay school taxes.

Another element that could change matters is news that an additional $15 million could be added to the state’s education budget. When Governor Paul LePage added $25 million a year ago, initially, the move actually hurt SAD 61. Because the district is a low receiver of state aid due to its overall property valuation, when the state added money and numbers were reconfigured, SAD 61 stood to lose funding.

Smith contacted local legislators as well as the acting Department of Education commissioner, arguing that SAD 61 should not be harmed by an increase in educational funding — at the very least, it should maintain what little state aid it receives.

“Many of our local legislators had no idea that we would actually lose money when educational funding was increased,” Smith said.

Someone may have actually listened.

According to a report by the Maine Education Association, if $15 million is added to state education aid, SAD 61 could see its funding reach $1,817,229 or $198,835 over a year ago. Local officials estimated state aid at $1.8 million.

Budget by Expenditure Articles

2016-17 General Fund Budget at .93%

Regular Instruction: 10,373,305, up 437,591

Special Education: 4,904,312, down 180,787

Career & Tech Education: 1,459,756, down 6,894

Other Instruction: 527,499, up 35,603

Student & Staff Support: 2,614,165, down 165,991

System Administration: 894,266, up 70,068

School Administration: 1,393,218, up 25,195

Transportation: 1,753,273, up 20,057

Facilities & Maintenance: 3,216,913, up 58,423

Debt Service: 2,092,191, down 71,083

All Other Expenditures: 150,000, up 50,000

Total: 29,378,898, up 272,182

Adult Education: 599,328, down 25,042

 

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