Brunswick school budget caught in 'perfect storm'

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Superintendent, School Board wrestle with deficit of $4M

BRUNSWICK — Despite cutting items like new interactive white boards, summer math and literacy camp, and dropping a day from the school calendar, there is still a $4 million deficit in the fiscal 2012 school budget.

Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski presented the news to the School Board at a budget workshop Wednesday night, and said “this was one of those days when being a superintendent of schools was not very fun at all.”

The deficit is expected to shrink a little after increases in health insurance costs are finalized and when teacher salaries are settled.

But even then, Perzanoski anticipates cuts between $3.2 million and $3.6 million in the approximately $36 million budget.

A number of factors contribute to the deficit, which Perzanoski said is the second largest in the state after Portland’s.

The first is a $1.8 million reduction in impact aid, which the federal government paid the town to educate the children of military families. Now that the Brunswick Naval Air Station is closing, the federal funds are disappearing.

Other major factors include an approximately $1 million decline in state education aid, due to Brunswick’s rising property values and declining student population; an unexpected increase in debt service for the Harriet Beecher Stowe elementary school and the high school, and a 3 percent increase in material and equipment costs.

Perzanoski summed up the situation: “It’s like a perfect storm this year.”

Items already cut from the budget include a public pre-school program for 4-year-olds. That program would have cost the town more than an estimated $265,000.

“It would be my recommendation that we do not fund that,” Perzanoski said.

In addition, the school district has 38 fewer employees this year than last year, including retirees whose jobs were not filled. Perzanoski recommended eliminating two additional education technicians from Jordan Acres, as well as another two from the libraries at that school and Coffin Elementary School.

Other cuts already accounted for include approximately $70,000 of savings from the School Department’s retire/rehire program. Teachers who have taught in Brunswick for at least 25 years and are of retirement age are eligible to retire, take their pension, and be rehired back at a lower salary grade. Perzanoski said six teachers took advantage of the program last year, and seven have already approached him this year. Each retire/rehire candidate can save the school district $15,000 to $20,000.

The proposed budget also includes savings from eliminating one school day, bringing the total down to 175, the legal minimum. In doing so, he said the School Department could save $75,000 in salaries, transportation fees, and other expenses.

He also proposed getting rid of the week-long summer math and literacy camp, which enrolls approximately 80 children each year who need extra help in those subjects. The program has been running for about 20 years, and could save the town $25,000 if eliminated.

Perzanoski said creative thinking is necessary to address the remaining $4 million deficit.  He wouldn’t elaborate, except to say that he has some “out of the box ideas.”

If School Board members were shocked by the proposed cuts, they didn’t show it, although Michelle Small asked if Perzanoski was to the point of considering cutting programs. He responded, “if you look at this, you’d have to answer yes.”

The board meets again on Thursday, April 7, for another budget discussion. The public forum on the budget has been postponed at least until the end of the month.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

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