Posted May 17, 2017 By Mark Pechenik / firstname.lastname@example.org
SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — Eliot and South Berwick residents in attendance at the SAD 35 school district budget meeting on May 17 overwhelmingly approved the district’s fiscal year 2017-2018 budget.
The $31,052,682 budget was approved by a vote of 184 to 7 and will now be subject to a budget validation referendum by all district voters on June 13.
While all of the budget’s 19 warrant articles passed, Article 16 – a measure allowing any additional state monies to be used to mitigate budget cutbacks – was the subject of some discussion. The article refers to the possibility of a restoration in funding to the Marshwood school district by the state legislature, thereby negating all or some of the $769,000 cut in state subsidy to SAD 35 recommended by Governor Paul LePage.
Citing statistics pointing to an increasing senior population in Maine that is being hard pressed to meet school operating costs, Eliot resident Robert Pomerleau favored putting aside restored funding to meet district expenditures in coming years.
“That money should be put in the bank and saved toward future school revenues,” stated Pomerleau.
In response, Brett Newbury of South Berwick maintained that such savings were not necessary since, in his view, school costs will ease as the state’s school age population continues to decrease. “Expenditures will logically shrink in the future,” said Newbury. “So, I am in favor of the article.”
Following discussion, Article 16 was passed along with the other articles.
Another key article approved $4,416,694.94 to go beyond the state’s subsidy for the district. The measure seeks to maintain district standards that include a nurse in every school building, salaries to attract qualified teaching staff, and monies for athletic and co-curricular programs.
A large snapping turtle crosses the road in New Castle.
Prior to the vote, both Kerri Tice, chairperson of SAD 35′s board of directors, and SAD 35 Superintendent Mary C. Nash emphasized the difficulty of developing the budget in light of the proposed, significant cutbacks in state education support.
“It has been a challenging budget season,” Tice stated to the audience. She noted the board’s struggle to develop a budget that would not be overly burdensome to taxpayers while, at the same time, preserving as many district programs and services as possible for students.
The compromise, as detailed by Nash, was a reduction of 10 full-time equivalent employees and an increase in class sizes, to the maximum recommended under district policy, plus one more additional student in all classes in every grade.
This, in turn, allowed the district to propose a 1.25 percent reduction in the 2018 budget from this year and restrict the total district assessment to 2.97 percent. In dollar amounts, this will mean an increase of $7,076,482.17 for Eliot and $5,399,277.00 for South Berwick residents to support their public schools.
Nash made it clear, however, that the resulting budget was not favored by either her or the board. “These were not programmatic recommendations,” she said in prepared remarks to the audience. “These were recommendations made as a result of the district not having enough money to operate at previous class sizes.”
Despite the cutbacks, the budget does see some modest increases, mostly due to upticks in health insurance costs and cost of living adjustments. These include an additional $336,000 for special education, a 1.2 percent increase in regular instruction, and a 2.4 percent increase or $22,000 for system administration which includes the district business and superintendent offices.
But there are also several key decreases from the current year in the budget. Among them is a $362,000 drop in facilities maintenance due to fuel and electricity costs savings, as evidenced by the installation of more fuel-efficient boilers in several schools. Debt service will also see a drop of $200,000 due to final payment on a bond that improved Marshwood Middle School facilities.