Brunswick approves school budget, building project

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BRUNSWICK — Voters on Tuesday approved the $37.4 million fiscal year 2018 school budget and funding for a $28 million elementary school.

Nearly three times as many voters turned out this year, compared with last year’s budget referendum. Nearly 58 percent of them supported the budget.

More 20 percent of registered voters went to the polls; they passed the budget 2,183 to 1,604, despite opposition from some residents who claimed it was either too high or too low.

Combined with the municipal budget, the overall town budget will impose a 3 percent increase in the tax rate to $29.35 per $1,000 of assessed value, or about $102 on a median tax bill of just under $3,400.

More votes were cast on the school building question, which passed by a tighter margin, with support from only 53 percent of those who voted. Construction of a replacement for Coffin Elementary School on site of the old Jordan Acres school was approved 2,040 to 1,779.

The school is expected to open in September 2020.

Borrowing the $28 million could happen either in full or in pieces, Town Finance Director Julia Henze said Wednesday morning, especially as interest rates are expected to rise – or fluctuate – over the next several years.

In the most likely scenario, she said, the town will issue bonds in 2021, and the borrowing will impose an increase on the tax rate of more than 4 percent.

“There’s no getting around that,” Henze said.

Before that happens, the School Board will finalize the project schedule and form a building committee.

“(Architect) Lyndon (Keck) is getting together a time-line to get us to 2020,” Chairwoman Joy Prescott said at a June 14 meeting following the vote. An outline drafted this winter proposed starting construction in 2018, after about a year of engineering and design work.

Prescott also said the board needs to decide what to do with Coffin Elementary after it’s been decommissioned, although that discussion isn’t “something that needs to start tomorrow.”

As for the budget passage, Prescott noted Wednesday that during every budget season the board is accustomed to hearing from constituents who urge a smaller budget. But this year was different, she said, given the amount of correspondence they also received for increased spending.

After weeks of volleying with the Town Council, the board ultimately acquiesced and reduced shrank its operational spending by 0.5 percent to achieve a 3 percent increase in the overall tax rate (when combined with the municipal side).

Reductions to the budget include about a dozen teaching and administrative positions, the cost of a new school bus, a resource officer at Brunswick Junior High School, and several maintenance projects.

Up to $400,000 of those cuts could be restored if the Legislature modifies Gov. Paul LePage’s budget proposal and allocates greater aid to education.

The next $200,000 restored would go to offset property taxes, and any additional funds would replenish the School Department’s reserve fund balance.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.
  • EdBeem

    Tear down Coffin and build a new middle school there. Then tear down the old junior high and build athletic facilities on the site.