Brunswick board whittles school budget to $38M

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BRUNSWICK — The School Board is proposing a nearly flat fiscal 2018 budget that could produce a 3.3 percent increase in the school portion of the overall tax rate.

The Board voted 8-1 Wednesday on a $38 million budget, up less than 1 percent from this year’s $37.7 million – a number reduced by more than $849,000 after a series of cuts were made to staff and planned maintenance.

The reduction does not entirely close a $1 million gap in state funding threatened by the governor’s proposed budget.

In meetings leading up to Wednesday’s vote, the board struggled to decide on cuts without knowing the exact reimbursement it would receive from the state, given that Brunswick will vote to pass its budget prior to the state’s adoption of its budget.

School Business Director Kelly Wentworth cautioned that she still needs to finalize the numbers discussed Wednesday – which the board crunched on iPhones, pads of papers, and excel documents – before confirming the precise impact on the town’s tax rate.

But in an interview after Wednesday’s meeting she said her best estimate is a 3.3 percent hike in the School Department levy. The total tax rate is now $29.35 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The town will vote to ratify the budget in a June 13 referendum.

Because the Legislature will have likely revised Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget by the time the town passes its budget – and Brunswick could see extra money flow back into its budget – Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said the board will work with legal counsel to draft a warrant article that allows the department to use any extra revenue in fiscal year 2018, rather than waiting until the next year.

Board member Ben Tucker moved to adopt the cuts proposed Wednesday, knowing they did not reach the $1 million mark Perzanoski suggested the board cut to make up for the maximum state shortage.

“There’s a context for this number that I really want to be clear about,” Tucker said, explaining he hopes the board would use any money it receives back from the Legislature to reduce to town’s overall property tax burden.

He proposed the idea as a compensatory measure against the board’s slimmer-than-planned set of reductions. However, the board could still vote to incorporate the extra state funding back into its budget to restore cuts.

As it stands, the proposed cuts to staff would not result in layoffs, as personnel in the positions to be eliminated are already scheduled to leave or retire.

The budget would also retain a district curriculum coordinator, two learning specialists, and a music teacher at Harriet Beecher Stowe elementary school – posititions that stood to be cut in order to hit $1 million reduction.

However, those cuts may come back into play after the Town Council reviews the proposal next month. The council will hold a public hearing on the budget Thursday, May 11. 

William Thompson cast the only dissenting vote Wednesday. Without making up for the maximum state funding shortage, he said it was a risk to propose a budget that gambled on unknown money restored from Augusta.

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

Brunswick School Board member Ben Tucker, center, made the motion Wednesday to forward a $38 million budget to the Town Council.

Brunswick School Board member Ben Tucker, center, made the motion Wednesday to forward a $38 million budget to the Town Council.

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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.