Brunswick School Board members vow to oppose budget if council stands by cuts

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BRUNSWICK — The School Board Wednesday night rejected the Town Council’s mandate for additional cuts to the fiscal year 2017 budget.

Two board members went even farther, promising to publicly oppose passage of next month’s school budget referendum unless the council restores the most recent reduction of $85,000.

“I will advocate publicly to reject the school budget and send it back to (the council) again,” board member Rich Ellis said after the meeting.

“I couldn’t agree more,” board member Corinne Perreault said. “I refuse any additional reduction.”

The council originally asked the school board trim about $410,000 from its nearly $38 million budget. The board complied with that request, cutting money slated for reserves and carrying over current-year revenues.

But some councilors thought those cuts did not go far enough. Council Chairwoman Sarah Brayman said she was “shocked” by how easily the board cut its budget; Councilor Kathy Wilson said she felt “hoodwinked.”

Councilor Jane Millett spearheaded the move May 16 to cut the additional $85,000, earmarked for a proposed paving project at Brunswick High School. Millet said the pavement “is not nearly in as poor shape as some roads leading to the high school,” and that the town and school should uphold equal “community standards.”

Soon after the council voted 6-2 for the cut, Ellis responded on his Facebook page.

“There was a clearly defined line … that the Town Council does not have line item authority over how the school spends its budget,” he wrote. “Tonight six councilors clearly crossed that line.”

Ellis’s sentiment was widely shared at Wednesday’s meeting.

School Board member Brenda Clough said although councilors say they want a “collaborative” process with the board, “collaborative does not mean the council saying … ‘this is what we want.'”

Board member Jim Grant called the council’s move “distasteful.”

Trying to take a step back from the feud, board member Sarah Singer said the real blame lies with the state and years of declining school subsidies.

“We are in an austerity climate … and we are trying to keep our schools intact,” she said. With less money coming in from the state, she argued, the town has to raise property taxes to maintain services.

“(It’s) shifting the costs to poorer residents,” she said. “It drives me bonkers.”

The board voted 8-1, with Singer opposed, to maintain its proposed budget of $37.7 million, rejecting the council’s $85,000 reduction.

Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said after the meeting that the vote was largely symbolic. The council is scheduled to authorize the town, school, and county budgets Thursday night, May 26, and councilors have the authority to set whatever cap they want on school spending.

But Ellis and Perreault warned there would be consequences if the council maintains the $85,000 cut.

“The school budget usually passes (70 percent to 30 percent),” Ellis said. “It takes maybe 100 people to swing … and the vote doesn’t pass.”

Last year, the school budget referendum was approved 779-490.

“This is about the principle of the process,” Ellis said. The council’s vote, targeted at one project, “is a precedent-breaking standard,” he added.

He said if the council stands by the cut, he would tell his constituents to reject the school budget at the June 14 referendum.

Perreault agreed. “There are a large number of people who are not pleased with the way this (process) went,” she said.

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

Brunswick School Board members Corinne Perreault, left, and Rich Ellis.

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.
  • Chew H Bird

    I suspect the school board had already decided how much and what to cut from the original budget (expecting a request for cuts) when it was submitted. The “political” error they made was in quickly reverting to their fall back budget which gave the appearance of “no problem” in dropping more than 400k to comply with the request.

    The Counsil then decided, based on ego and expectations to want deeper cuts and promptly decided to eliminate maintenance work that is required to reduce long term costs without consideration of the eventual economic impact to the taxpayers.

    As a taxpayer I am concerned with political posturing and reactionary decisions without fully understanding their impact.

    Both groups (in my opinion), need to examine their motives, methods, and sharpen their pencils. This should serve as a wake up call to the taxpayers of Brunswick.

    Any budget submitted in our town should not be able to remove close to a half million dollars without significant scrutiny. Decisions to simply cut additional funds should not be made without due diligence being performed.

    These actions by both groups leave a sour taste in my mouth. The entire purpose of the school board is (ultimately) to provide a better education for our children. If they do not take their responsibility seriously enough to be honest and realistic regarding their duties they should be replaced by people who care enough to actually do the job rather than play politics with taxpayer funds.

    The Town Counsil also showed their true colors by failing to vet the total impact of their random budget cut request. While this issue may or may not be subject to town protocol, the activity of both sides demonstrate clear ethical problems regarding their responsibility to Brunswick taxpayers and our students.

    I have always believed in something called “cost justification” whether I was working as a non-skilled laborer, running a corporation, working for myself, or making a suggestion to one of our elected officials. Our local officials need to remember they represent the people of Brunswick regardless of their focus.