Brunswick School Board proposes $39M budget, 5% tax hike

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BRUNSWICK — The School Department will present a $39 million fiscal year 2019 budget to the Town Council that includes 4.98 percent tax increase. 

School Board members voted 7-1 for the proposal Wednesday evening, following a public forum and special meeting. Board member Bill Thompson was opposed; he said a 5 percent tax increase is too high.

The proposal passed March 28 is a 0.28 percent reduction from the draft discussed last week, with a $20,000 cut in technology costs and the elimination of a full-time technology integrator position for grades K-5.

With the added reductions, the proposal remains $1.2 million larger than this year’s $38 million budget, a 4.05 percent increase.

The School Department is scheduled to present the proposal at the Town Council’s April 5 budget hearing, although Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski said he has asked to push the presentation to April 12 because of conflicting meetings.

The Town Council is scheduled to adopt the municipal budget May 14.

During a presentation preceding the public hearing Wednesday, Business Manager Kelly Wentworth said the drivers behind the tax increase include salaries and benefits, dried-up revenue from federal grants, bus purchases and repairs, student and staff supports, technology, and facilities.

The loss of Title I and Title II grants resulted in an increase of more than $330,000. As a result, several full-time teaching positions at the Coffin School, a part-time resource assistant and a part-time teacher at Harriet Beecher Stowe school had to be assimilated into the local budget.

Bus purchases and repairs added $243,000 to this year’s budget. The school department was notified by the state Department of Education last month  that it was approved to purchase four new school buses; it will be reimbursed by the state in fiscal year 2020.

Included in this year’s budget is the cost of purchasing two buses; the district has requested a loan from the town to purchase the other two, to be paid back after the school is reimbursed.

The cost of technology equipment, which was originally set to be nearly $92,000, was reduced to $71,000 at the most recent budget hearing due to a discount the district was able to procure, Perzanoski said.

Wentworth said technology is an area that was reduced in previous years, and the items included – such as ceiling projectors, equipment carts, laptops and speakers – are still needed.

The Facilities, Projects and Equipment section also provided an over $310,000 increase.

Several residents also addressed the board, on both sides of the spending plan.

Robert Morrison was the first to speak in support of the budget, and said education should be the town’s top priority.

“Remember that you have a wonderful, creative bunch of staff members in this school district: clerical, custodial and bus drivers to teachers and administrators who know what top-notch education looks like,” Morrison said. “Give them the needed resources, board members, and when necessary be their rock of support.”

Residents Sue Stableford, Jean Powers and Ed Cowan, however, spoke out against tax increases associated with the school budget and the cost of specific line items.

Cowan, owner of Sunshine Too Laundromat, said as a small business owner, last year’s tax revaluation was particularly difficult for him. He advised the board to be conservative in creating this year’s budget proposal.

“You need to be as fiscally responsible as you can, because sooner or later you’re going to put all the small businessmen out, and you’re going to put all the older folks out, and we won’t be living in Brunswick anymore,” he said. 

Board members agreed to retain the budget proposal as drafted on March 21, with the removal of the full-time technology integrator position, until they are clearer on what it requires, and with the reduced technology costs factored in.

Thompson said he thought the number was still too high to send to the Town Council.

“I think that our responsibility is to provide the best quality education, but in an affordable way and in a responsible way,” he said. “And that means we can’t have everything we want all at once, all the time.”

In response, board member Ben Tucker pointed out voters still have to ratify the overall budget on June 12.

“The people of this town ultimately vote on the budget; we’re forwarding a proposal to the council, for them to consider and they may ask us to modify it, but they will be finalizing warrant articles to put to referendum,” he said. “Ultimately, all the voters of this town will be voting on a budget.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.