Proposed spending increase could hinge on stimulus, closing Hawthorne
BRUNSWICK — With an important vote approaching on the closing of Hawthorne Elementary School, the School Board on Tuesday heard proposals from department heads who were asked to deliver flat spending plans as part of the upcoming budget.
For the most part, department leaders met the mandate, giving the board some hope that it could provide the Town Council with a budget hike of 2 percent or less.
Whether that happens will depend largely on a March 11 vote by the board to close Hawthorne at the end of the school year. The school is already slated for closure pending the construction of a new elementary school on McKeen Street. But according to Superintendent Paul Perzanoski, shuttering the building early would save the department more than $531,000.
If Hawthorne is closed, Perzanoski has said the department would likely move its central offices and adult education programs there. The department could then turn over its current location at 35 Union St. to the town.
The town has been discussing a proposal to use the Union Street facility for People Plus, a retirement services center being displaced by the Maine Street Station project.
While it’s unclear if the board will ratify Perzanoski’s Hawthorne proposal on March 11, early indications show support from several board members.
On Tuesday, Hawthorne Principal Jean Skorapa did not present a budget. However, she has submitted one in the event the board votes against closing the school.
Perzanoski also told the board that the department could receive some relief from the recently enacted federal stimulus bill. Perzanoski said state Education Commissioner Susan Gendron told superintendents on Tuesday that the bill would likely lead to the reinstatement of the DOE’s recent funding curtailments of $55 million.
For Brunswick that would mean recovery of $474,000, and avoiding having to take $2 million out of the School Department’s surplus.
Perzanoski said the stimulus money could help the board deliver a flat budget with or without closing Hawthorne, but he advised board members to remain conservative.
“When this stimulus money dries up we’re still be here trying to provide education for our kids,” Perzanoski said.
The department’s current budget is $33.6 million, more than 60 percent of the town’s overall budget. Perzanoski’s Hawthorne proposal would yield a spending increase of about $317,000, or less than 1 percent. Without the closing, the budget would increase more than $678,000, or 2.02 percent.
Neither plan includes reinstatement of curtailed state funds.
On Tuesday, principals from the district’s elementary schools, the junior high school and the high school presented budgets that either decrease or show no increase.
Maine Vocational Region 10 Director Barry Lohnes presented a budget with an increase of more than $300,000. But that increase will likely come out of the school’s surplus.
Perzanoski said declining enrollments associated with the ongoing closure of Brunswick Naval Air Station helped the department deliver those budget scenarios. The district is expected to lose close to 300 students between this year and next.
He also said the loss of enrollment dovetails with teacher and staff attrition. The district’s typical annual attrition rate is 23 employees, while the number of positions that must be eliminated to prevent layoffs is a lot less.
While those losses will help the district this year, Perzanoski warned that the next two budget cycles will be the toughest.