Brunswick council tells School Board to reduce budget

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BRUNSWICK — The School Board is facing a Town Council demand to make deep cuts to the proposed fiscal 2016 spending plan.

The board met Wednesday night to review a school budget proposal that contains a 3.42 percent increase over this year’s spending.

The increase is largely attributable to updates in facilities, maintenance to grounds and the transportation fleet, and insurance increases. Superintendent Paul Perzanoski also said the School Department has lost revenue due to declining enrollment since 2014.

The total local expenditure budget, as of April 15, is just under $37 million. About 35 percent will be covered by revenues, with the remainder, a total of more than $23.7 million, to be covered by an appropriation from the town.

That’s a nearly $1.6 million increase over this year, and would require a 4.14 percent tax increase.

But Perzanoski said he recently met with Town Manager John Eldridge, who told him the board would have to cut the budget by $750,000.

“He arrived at that number after conversations with various members of the Town Council,” Perzanoski said.

The responses from board members ranged from solemn, to indignant, to frustrated.

“I find it curious that you have been requested by someone at the town to cut our budget, even before we come to the end of our process,” board member Brenda Clough said.

Board member James Grant echoed Clough, who said the board’s responsibility is to “pass a budget that’s right for the school system. From an attorney’s perspective, we shouldn’t even be looking at tax impacts.”

Board member Richard Ellis said that he appreciated the request, even though it would be hard to implement. “I appreciate the feedback now, vs. what happened last year … when we heard the day before,” he said.

He added that he also expects the Town Council to pull its weight in cutting its side of the budget. “I think they have a lot more work to do than we do, given the initial numbers that have come in,” he said.

Perzanoski said his office would look at the budget and come up with proposed cuts over the school vacation next week.

Board member Sarah Singer expressed concern that in make reductions, the school department might have to let off staff. Ellis agreed, saying “the $750,000 will be hard to find in there given there’s no new staff.”

Perzanoski said he could certainly see a scenario where no one loses a job, since several employees are nearing retirement. He noted that the School Department already employs 120 fewer people than in 2009.

“As a board, how can we answer the question of ‘how is this good for our kids?'” board member Chris McCarthy said. He added that in looking at cuts, the board should “not just try to justify the council’s position.”

“The right approach is not to just throw whatever at the Town Council,” Board Chairman William Thompson said. “We are beholden to the people who elected us to be here.”

The superintendent said his office will give the board a budget recommendation before the School Board meeting on April 28. There will be a public forum on the school budget at Town Hall on Tuesday, April 28, and a vote on Wednesday, April 29.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Corrected April 16: The public forum on the school budget is April 28.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.