All-day kindergarten still on the table in Yarmouth

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YARMOUTH — School Committee members have decided full-day kindergarten should still be considered, even though they’re trying to craft a fiscal year 2013 school budget that minimizes any property tax increase.

When the seven-member committee concluded its second budget workshop at Rowe School on Tuesday night, much of the framework of the preliminary $20.08 million operating budget introduced in January by Superintendent Judy Paolucci remained intact.

All -ay kindergarten remains the costliest variable in the budget, although the projected cost passed on to taxpayers has been reduced for fiscal 2013 from $230,000 to about $125,000.

Paolucci and School Committee Chairman David Ray said they think the full-day sessions are necessary and inevitable, but they are uncertain if the economic and political climate will allow town councilors and the public to approve the idea as part of the budget that will take effect July 1.

Initially proposed at a cost of $381,000, full-day kindergarten would better prepare students for the first rounds of standardized testing they’ll face in third grade, Paolucci said.

The program costs include three teaching and two educational technician positions and could be defrayed this year with $150,000 from existing department funds, according to Paolucci’s preliminary plan. But, Ray cautioned, the $150,000 is a one-time payment.

Paolucci said some cuts in other budget areas, including not filling a new bus driver position, reduced the potential cost to taxpayers by about $100,000. But some School Committee members balked at more cuts within the budget because of potential harm they might do to other school programs.

In deciding to move forward with the introduction of full-day kindergarten, Paolucci said the district can now seek more public opinion on the plan and School Committee members and school administrators can continue to review ways to pay for the classes without increasing the tax rate or hurting other programs and services.

Without a full-day kindergarten program, the proposed fiscal 2013 school budget contains a 1.24 percent spending increase and seeks a 3.7 percent increase in property tax revenue, to $18.15 million.

If passed, the budget would represent $14.58 per $1,000 of assessed value in the overall Yarmouth property tax rate of $21.01 per $1,000 of assessed value, according to projections from Town Manager Nat Tupper.

The proposed budget does not eliminate programs, and adds a fourth-grade teaching position. If passed, it would add a half-day more per week for gifted and talented instruction at Harrison Middle School and one more day per week for introductory English language instruction throughout the schools.

The largest revenue decline faced by the School Committee is the loss of almost $533,000 in federal jobs bill money from legislation enacted in September 2010. Jobs funding expires in the next fiscal year, but the district financial hit was softened by the retirement of a 20-year bond used to construct Harrison Middle School.

Elimination of bond and interest payments for the school frees up more than $455,000 for use in the upcoming budget, and Paolucci’s preliminary budget calls for use of $126,000 in “tax stabilization” funds set aside over the last three years. Paolucci’s budget calls for the entire tax stabilization fund to be used in fiscal year 2013.

Funding from the Maine Department of Education for Essential Programs and Services (EPS) is expected to increase by $11,000, pending approval by the state Legislature. Paolucci’s preliminary budget was drafted with the expectation of an increase of more than $67,000.

Because the district bought a van instead of a school bus for transportation last year, that cost will not be reimbursed as part of the EPS formula, so Paolucci said she and the School Committee are actually working with about $135,000 less than anticipated in state subsidies.

The School Committee has scheduled a March 8 vote on the budget. It will be presented to town councilors in March or April. Two council public hearings on the school budget will be held, but dates have not been determined for the hearings.

As required by state law, the school budget will face two public votes. The first, on 11 specific “cost centers” for school operations, will be at the annual Town Meeting on June 5.

The second vote, simply a yes or no on the total budget, will be on the June 12 ballot, in conjunction with party primary elections.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow David on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.