BRUNSWICK — For weeks, dozens of residents have attended public hearings, council meetings and workshops and asked the town council not to cut any more from next year’s $33.3 million school budget.
On Monday, they received some reassurance that the Town Council will not request any further reductions in education spending. Each councilor said they would vote for the proposed school budget at next week’s budget adoption meeting.
Monday’s public hearing on the town and school budgets was the last chance for residents to express their opinions to the council. A few people stood up to complain about increased spending, tax hikes, and teacher salaries; the majority were worried about how this year’s budget cuts would impact the quality of public education in Brunswick.
Matthew Klingle, who said he had two young children, spoke about the importance of public education for enticing the employees of new businesses at Brunswick Landing to move to Brunswick.
“Good schools are the economic and social center of any community,” he said. “Excessive school cuts do not point to a promising future.”
Other speakers affirmed his statements, telling the council they had moved to Brunswick because of its schools.
“I am one of those people who moved to the town in large part because of the excellent reputation these schools had,” Steve Perkinson said.
Eddy Hatrick is another.
“The quality of the school system put Brunswick on a very short list of towns in Maine to which we considered moving,” he said. “What attracts a family to a school system is a system that is aspiring to better education … not one that is retrenching.”
Laura Lienert, who lives on High Street and is part of an active-duty U.S. Navy family, said the Navy provided information to incoming families about the quality of education in towns around the Navy base, and she picked Brunswick because its schools were, at the time, superior to many surrounding towns.
But after two years of significant educational cutbacks, Lienert said she would no longer choose Brunswick.
“If we were moving here today, we’d move to Yarmouth,” she said. “We want to make sure people come to this town for the same reasons we did … what can you do as a council to make sure people move 15 minutes north?”
Other speakers were adamantly opposed to raising taxes to fund public education.
Peter Footer blamed the teachers union for the “mess we’re in.” He encouraged the council to look at teacher and town employee benefit packages, cautioning that if such an analysis is not made, “we’re only looking for more and more trouble.”
Pem Schaeffer questioned the correlation between increased spending and school quality, and criticized the teachers’ union for keeping this year’s contract out of the public eye.
Teacher salary negotiations are normally private until the teachers have voted to accept them, and this year is no exception, Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said. He said the union and the administration have come to an agreement, which will be finalized and released to the public early next week.
Although the public hearing was officially about the budget, a few speakers took the opportunity to link the recent announcement that the Brunswick Development Corp. would be purchasing the land for a new police station with this year’s budget woes.
Karen Klatt said BDC should be dissolved and its approximately $3 million balance, which it uses to make loans and grants to boost economic development in town, should be allocated to offsetting budget deficits.
Louise Rosen questioned whether buying land for a police station is really economic development, and said the money would be better spent on education.
“Quality preschool: that’s economic development, not a police station,” she said, referring to the superintendent’s proposal that the town fund public preschool. The idea was shelved early in this year’s budget process because of how much it would have cost: around $265,000.
At the end of the night, council Chairwoman Joanne King went around the table and asked each councilor to share with the public where they stood on the budget vote. Every councilor said they would approve the school budget, and only a few few said they would look for additional cuts from the municipal side.
Councilor David Watson said it is hard for him to vote to increase taxes, which under the current budget would rise by 3.54 percent.
“I think this is the year that we’ve got to bite the bullet and do what we can to save this community,” he said. “I hate to say that raising the taxes a little more in the answer, but I don’t see any other answer.”
The council votes on the budget Thursday, May 26, at 7 p.m.