Slight increase in proposed SAD 72 budget

By Emily Butterfield

Contributing Writer

FRYEBURG — Over the past year, the SAD 72 school board has been diligently chipping away at creating a budget for 2016. After much deliberation by members and consideration from the public, it appears a consensus has been reached, and a mere 1.32% increase from last years budget will be presented for district voters on May 27.

Workshops began in April, with board members reviewing line-by-line costs for all areas of education including transportation, which had a $71,050 (or 4.89%) increase over last year. The main driving force for this was the allocation of two new larger buses to replace the smaller ones. However, the largest factor resulting in the increase comes from out-of-district transportation of students with special needs or if a child is deemed “homeless” during the school year. The district is required to transport students to and from where they are residing. Unfortunately, these circumstances arose recently this school year and were not budgeted or anticipated in fiscal year 2015.

“These costs are minor,” said Superintendent Jay Robinson, “but when you don’t budget for them and you don’t account for it, the six-thousand dollars here and the twelve-thousand dollars there tends to add up.”

Other alternatives were looked at to minimize the cost, but as special service director Patricia Menzel put it, “Shelter spaces for people open up wherever they happen to be, and if it’s in the best interest of the child to keep them in the district, then we need to educate them here.”

Director of Transportation Dave Powers noted that when situations such as this arise, they attempt to contact the surrounding districts to see if the cost of transporting students can be shared, but that it is often difficult because, “We’re on the outer edges of the district, nobody travels through us.”

Powers was happy to report that Facilities and Maintenance will have a $70,473 (or 6.37%) decrease over last year’s budget. The biggest factor in this reduction was the final bond payment for Molly Ockett’s roof and structural upgrade. Another decrease is from removing one of the portable classrooms at Molly Ockett.

Special education was able to restructure their costs and experienced a decrease of 0.11%. This was done by moving two students from out-of-district placement back into SAD 72. However, there are still ten SAD 72 students that require out-of-district placement for special needs, the transportation cost of which is included in the Special Education budget. Some of these students are traveling anywhere between 30 and 90 minutes to their destination each day.

When asked how parents felt about having their children on a bus for up to three hours a day, Menzel said, “I can’t speak for them, but I’m sure some of them are not happy, but some of them, on the other hand, are. As long as their children’s needs are being met that’s what important to them.” Menzel reiterated Dave Powers sentiment that it is difficult to find the adequate placement necessary when the district is isolated from other areas.

“I don’t know too many parents whose students are placed out-of-district that have a problem with it,” said Superintendent Robinson. “This is where those students need to be.”

Secondary education for Fryeburg Academy experienced an $119,851 (or 2.91%) increase. The biggest reason for this increase comes from the influx in vocational students, special education and regular instruction. Estimates from last year were not as accurate as once thought. “It’s very challenging to get out a crystal ball and really predict what we will be paying for next fall,” Robinson said.

SAD 72 continues to pay two-thirds of the cost to send district students in the Academy to the vocational program at Lake Region High School, therefore, the estimates on students returning for fiscal year 2016 are hopefully more conservative and will reflect the actual number.

With the budget now determined, the cost to each individual town was to be determined. The educational mil rate for the state increased from $8.10 last year to $8.48 this year. Compared to the budget in the past few years, the tax impact for this year will be a smooth transition for some towns, with three of them (Sweden, Lovell and Fryeburg) all decreasing. Stoneham, however, will see an assessment increase of 7.06%.

The district was also able to rework their funding and received $80,000 more in student subsidies, which allowed them to offset the local cost to towns. Funding from the state continues to be an issue for SAD 72 and other districts, as over the years Maine has paid less and less out to districts, leaving them to come up with more of the cost.

Voters will be able to approve or strike down the budget on Wednesday, May 27 at 7 p.m. at the Molly Ockett gymnasium.

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