School board restores $186k to budget

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Kevin Murphy of Bridgton is “distressed” over cuts made to the SAD 61 budget.

“All we seem to do is cut,” said the father of two elementary school children during Monday night’s public hearing on the SAD 61 proposed budget held at Lake Region High School. “We’re taking away opportunities to educate our youth. Cuts today will raise costs in the future.”

While Murphy understands the pressures caused by a bad economy, he believes the proposed cuts run too deep. He said many people voted against last year’s budget because they disagreed with the cuts made, not because the general fund figure was too high.

He wondered what budget Superintendent Kathleen Beecher would have presented had she not been instructed by the Finance Committee to develop a “zero increase” package — excluding $133,000 for debt service payment.

Superintendent Beecher said officials “did more cutting than what we should have done” as they strived to develop a “needs-based budget.” One area Beecher expressed concern over was increasing class sizes, in some cases from 17 to 19 up to 24 or 26.

Sebago Director Richard Merritt defended the board’s approach saying, “We can’t afford big hits, especially when unpaid tax rolls are up. It’s okay to spend what we did last year, but we can’t afford much more.”

Ultimately, Merritt said administrators drafted a budget “they could live with” and left eight items (which were addressed Monday) for the school board to either include or exclude.

Casco Town Manager David Morton and Naples Selectman Rick Paraschak agreed with Merritt’s assertion.

Morton reminded the school board of the hefty $1.4 million school tax hike hit Casco has experienced over the past three years. And, the town’s majority voted against last year’s budget — a sign that taxpayers felt they were at their spending limit.

Paraschak commended the school board for listening to municipal officials, who pleaded for a zero-increase budget during a winter workshop session. He suggested the use of a closed warrant at the district budget meeting, preventing anyone from increasing budget lines.

Tough choices

To achieve the “cost neutral” mandate, administrators made cuts (totaling $942,574), but also brought forth some “enhancements” ($342,672), which they felt were needed.

The net reduction was $599,902.

Bridgton Director Trina Sanborn asked what effect would be felt by taxpayers if $600,000 was added back into the budget. SAD 61 Finance Coordinator Sherrie Small indicated that for every $100,000, the cost to the towns would be: $37,000 to Bridgton; $22,000 to Casco; $27,000 to Naples; and $14,000 to Sebago.

“If we were to increase the budget by $600,000, forget about passing the budget. It will not pass,” said Casco Director Laurie Mondville. “I am confident it would not pass in Casco. We can swallow a small increase in Casco, but not that much.”

Director Merritt pointed out that the true problem is not the district’s spending; it has been more about the loss of state revenue, which has resulted in a greater burden on local taxpayers.

Monday was the school board’s turn to weigh a variety of items placed on the Leadership Team’s “wish list.” Decisions made Monday night resulted in the addition of $186,000 to the proposed budget. Items discussed included:

• Reinstatement of Sebago Elementary principal ($33,000). Citing transportation concerns to keeping the status quo until a decision is made about Sebago Elementary’s future, directors restored funding to keep the Principal/Teacher position at SES.

Superintendent Beecher noted that the school has always had a “principal” overseeing the administration of the school.

Mondville said the decision to use the Songo Locks principal to oversee two schools and use a Head Teacher to be the main administrator in her absence was both a cost-savings measure for a school with an enrollment at under 100, as well as an answer to the public’s suggestion last year to cut administrative costs.

Under the state’s Essential Programs and Services funding model, it calls for one principal for 305 students.

The motion to restore funding for the principal/teacher at SES passed 8-4.

• Increased Ed Tech IIIs at the K-2 elementary level from 6.5 to 9 ($63,000). With some children failing to meet standards, Naples Director Janice Barter feels Ed Techs are in need. She suggested that the Ed Techs be used initially to assist at the kindergarten level early in the school year to help children get acclimated and “brought up to speed.” The Ed Techs would then be “shuffled” to other grade levels where “needs exist.”

Mondville said she could support adding more Ed Techs only if the school’s principal was given the flexibility to place the support staff where needed. If the Ed Techs were to be used exclusively for kindergarten, Mondville said she would not support the measure.

Casco Director Donna Norton said she would have no trouble defending the decision to fund nine Ed Techs to taxpayers.

“I believe this is the best way to spend money to increase our children’s outcomes,” she said.

Directors debated whether to go with 12 Ed Tech IIIs, which was deemed the “ideal” set-up.

“We will utilize anyone you give to us to the full advantage,” Stevens Brook Elementary School Principal Cheryl Turpin said.

The motion passed by a 7-5 vote.

• Added two Ed Tech IIIs for Grade 4 at Stevens Brook and Grade 5 at Songo Locks ($55,000).

Traditionally, SAD 61 has attempted to keep class sizes in the 17 to 19 range. Next year, two fourth grade classes at Stevens Brook is projected to be at 23 or 24. Songo Locks will have three fifth grade classes at 24. Ideally, principals would ask for an additional teacher to drop the class size. However, the cost would reach $100,000 to do so.

As a compromise, administrators felt an Ed Tech could be used to bring additional support, at half the cost.

Some directors, however, want to stick with past practice and supported funding two teachers. Initially, after a weighted vote (to break a 6-6 tie), the measure passed 479-464.

But, Bridgton Director Cindy LeBlanc, who had supported the teacher proposal, later asked to reconsider the vote. Directors then voted 8-3 to add two Ed Techs rather than hire two teachers.

• Expansion of the Diversified Occupations program to eighth grade ($18,000). Lake Region Vocational Director Rosie Schacht is working to develop the program with other sending schools, SAD 55 (Sacopee Valley) and SAD 72. Each school would contribute $18,000. The program would initially support 12 students — four from each school district — but could be expanded in the future based on need.

• Reinstatement of curriculum supplies and books ($10,000).

• Reinstate band position at the high school ($7,000). This money will allow high school band director Paul Greenstone to offer more individualized instrumental lessons.

“If we want to bring in a new player to the band, right now, there would be no time to teach him or her,” Greenstone said.

Director Barter knows firsthand how students find some new doors of opportunity open because they were exposed to other instruments. Barter’s son, Trent, was a drum player. He decided to take up bass guitar. Next month, Trent (on guitar) and his band will play at the Hard Rock Café in Boston.

The motion passed 10-0.

Directors will now take the proposed general fund budget of $26,239,952 and adult education budget of $602,052 to the public for action on May 15.

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What’s next

• Monday, April 2, SAD 61 School Board will vote on the budget and sign warrant articles. The meeting will be held at the Crooked River Adult and Community Education Center in Casco at 7 p.m.

• Tuesday, May 15, district budget meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the Lake Region High School gym.

• Tuesday, May 22, budget validation vote in Bridgton, Casco, Naples and Sebago.

Town Assessments

Town, Total Local Allocation, Increase/Decrease

Bridgton, $8,248,020, up $225,059

Casco, $5,711,299, down $274,373

Naples, $6,977,877, up $106,264

Sebago, $3,122,371, down $65,366

Historical notes

Past SAD 61 budgets

Year/General Fund/Inc. or Dec.

2012-2013, $26,003,952, up 0.47%

2011-2012, $25,882,500, up 2.65%

2010-2011, $25,216,486, down 1.45%

2009-2010, $25,431,571, 0%

2008-2009, $25,331,558, down 2.75%

2007-2008, $26,042,791, up 5%

2006-2007, $24,802,658, up 0.25%

• Seven-year average budget increase = 0.66%

State Subsidy

Year/Subsidy/Gain or Loss

2012-2013, $1,736,824, gain $893,588 (preliminary)

2011-2012, $834,133, loss of $359,439

2010-2011, $1,193,572, loss of $814,958

2009-2010, $2,008,530, loss of $1,073,928

2008-2009, $3,082,458, loss of $2,447,964

2007-2008, $5,530,422, loss of $833,300

2006-2007, $6,363,722, loss of $308,909

• Seven-year average state subsidy loss = $706,416

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