Brunswick School Board backs 6.5% budget hike

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BRUNSWICK — With charter schools on their minds, School Board members are recommending a 6.5 percent increase in the next school budget.

The board voted 7-1 for a $35.7 million budget for fiscal year 2014 at its April 11 meeting.

Members expressed concern about maintaining quality public schools in the face of charter school start-ups, particularly the nearby Harpswell Coastal Academy, which opens this fall.

The recommended budget is about a 1 percent increase from Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski’s original proposal, which was presented on April 4.

“This is a different budget than we have ever put forward before because we have never had competition before,” Board Chairman Jim Grant said. “We lost almost quarter of a million dollars to competition. That’s either going out of the town from taxpayer’s pockets or it’s going in to fund our budget from taxpayer’s pockets.

“Either way the taxpayers are going to pay,” Grant continued. “I’d rather keep it in this town and make sure we have a really good school system so that we stop the bleed out of the town.”

Board member William Thompson opposed the budget recommendation. He expressed concern that the Town Council will request more cuts in reaction to such a large budget increase when the budget is presented at a joint hearing on April 25.

“Rather than sending them something that they will approve with an increase that we can agree on, we’re going to end up having to cut more at their request than what we initially thought would have been appropriate,” Thompson said before the board’s vote. “This is always a risk that you take when you do these things, and it will be an ongoing back-and-forth discussion.”

Perzanoski’s original budget proposal, which sought a 5.5 percent increase, included eliminating several unfilled staff and stipend positions in two prioritized groups. The jobs included teachers, administrators and sports team personnel.

But a majority of School Board members said they wanted to maintain the jobs, even if it required a larger budget increase.

“I don’t think this is a want list; this is the need list,” board member Rich Ellis said.

Other increases in the school budget are attributed to salaries (up nearly $832,000), benefits (up nearly $402,000), special education (up about $415,000) and technology expenditures (up more than $233,000). 

The budget also factors in Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to shift state teacher retirement costs to local districts, which is estimated to cost Brunswick more than $264,000.

In addition, Perzanoski has factored in projected costs from the opening of Harpswell Coastal Academy when it opens this fall.

Perzanoski estimates the district will lose more than $195,000 from local students attending HCA because of the way state law requires funding to follow the students.

While Perzanoski’s figure is based on nine sixth-grade and nine ninth-grade Brunswick students attending HCA, preliminary enrollment data from the charter school indicates only 15 current students from Brunswick have expressed interest in enrolling.

Perzanoski acknowledged the actual figure could increase or decrease, and also depends on other factors, including how many require special education services.

For revenue projections, the School Department is expecting reductions in Medicaid (down $75,000) and tuition from students who live in other communities (down more than $54,000).

The School Department is also expecting a reduced use of surplus funds, to $2.4 million, from the current $3.4 million.

The town will vote on the school budget June 11.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.