Board urges Brunswick voters to back 'realistic' school budget

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BRUNSWICK — Voters will be asked to pay more for less under a $33.5 million budget passed by the School Board.

The amount represents an increase of almost 0.6 percent over the current budget, but a loss of federal funding means that the town appropriation will increase by 14.1 percent.

There will be a net loss of between seven and 10 employees, as well as the elimination of six coaching stipends.

Board member Corinne Perrault said supporters of education shouldn’t be disappointed.

“We’re still asking the town for almost $2.4 million over what they spent last year,” she said. “That is a very difficult thing for us to do, because now we’re going to get bashed by the 80 percent of the community that doesn’t have children in schools.”

Perrault added that a significant portion of residents without children in school have been very supportive of the School Department.

Board member Michelle Small said that the department has to be practical about what would be approved by voters.

“This year, with the (U.S.) Senate primary, we’re going to see some really conservative people coming out to vote,” she said, “so I also think we have to be realistic about what we can actually pass, and I don’t want our budget to be rejected. I don’t think we’re going to get away with a 10 percent tax increase.”

The actual tax increase that was proposed by Town Manager Gary Brown on Monday was 6.2 percent. It included a recommendation to take $1 million from the town’s general fund to offset state revenue losses.

The school budget preserves honors and AP courses, which drew significant public support after Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski said they might be threatened by budget cuts.

The board decided by a 5-4 vote on April 26 to base the budget on “Option 4,” one of five alternatives that Perzanoski presented. The options covered a range from $32.9 million to $34.1 million.

Board member Rich Ellis, who voted against Option 4, consistently advocated for more funding for the schools.

“I think this begins to cut too deep in,” he said. “… It’s a 3 percent increase over current budget, and I can tell you that, from an inflationary perspective, it’s not even keeping up.”

Ellis, Perrault and board members Brenda Clough and Janet Connors opposed Option 4.

Board member Bill Thompson, who voted in favor of Option 4, pointed to Perzanoski’s projections of large budget shortfalls over the next two budget cycles.

“We’ve seen reductions in our student population …” Thompson said. “I think this puts us in the best position moving forward to deal with the $1.8 million cut we’re going to have to address next year, and the $1.4 million cut the year after that.”

In passing Option 4, he was joined by board members James Corey, Michelle Joyce, James Grant and Small.

The board unanimously tabled a motion to add two psychologist positions to the payroll. Perzanoski said he would attempt to find funding for the positions from other areas in the budget, and would report back to the board.

The board also voted 5-4 to trade off an interactive whiteboard system in favor of hiring a full-time technology assistant at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School.

Once it had agreed on Option 4 as the basis for the budget, the board considered restoring several expenses.

There were failed efforts to add two special education positions at the elementary school level, at a cost of approximately $148,000; a full-time guidance counselor, and a full-time science teacher.

A half-time world language instructor position was successfully restored by a 6-3 vote, with Thompson, Joyce, Perrault, Small, Ellis, and Corey in favor; Clough, Grant, and Connors were opposed.

A half-time guidance counselor at the high school was also restored by a 7-2 vote, with Thompson and Grant opposed.

Grant spoke against various budget additions.

“Make sure you’re not doing this just because it feels good,” he said. “The superintendent a number of times has said we’ve got these programs pretty well covered.”

The budget will add three elementary-level educators; it will also lose two education technicians, a bus driver, a custodian, a resource assistant, an administrative secretary, an elementary art teacher, a high school PE teacher, and eight half-positions in math, English, history, science and guidance.

The Town Council will consider the School Board’s funding request as part of its municipal budget process; there will be a series of meetings and budget workshops held by the council throughout May.

On Monday, Sarah Singer spoke in favor of the school budget at a Town Council meeting.

“I want to ensure that the budget that’s been proposed by the School Board is supported by the Town Council,” Singer said. “I don’t think this is a great budget, but I think that further cuts to it would be terrible.”

On May 31, the Town Council will vote to adopt a school budget, which will be presented to voters for ratification on June 12.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @hh_matt.

Sidebar Elements

Brunswick school spending by the numbers

• Current school budget: $33.3 million.

• Budget approved by School Board for fiscal 2013: $33.5 million

• Net increase: $189,000, or 0.6 percent.

• Current town appropriation: $16.8 million.

• Town appropriation in proposed budget: $19.1 million.

• Net increase: $2.4 million, or 14.1 percent.

— Matt Hongoltz-Hetling