Brunswick school budget could increase nearly 6%

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BRUNSWICK — Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski is proposing a nearly 6 percent budget increase for fiscal year 2014.

The School Board was expected to make a decision on the proposed $35 million budget Thursday night, and will have to send it to the Town Council by April 17.

The board discussed possible reductions and ways to shift costs at public budget forums on Wednesday and April 4.

Perzanoski on Tuesday said he was not able to provide the expected impact on property taxes from his spending plan.

The largest budget increases are attributed to increases in costs for special education, salary, benefits and technology, according to the school chief.

Together, the expenditures account for 88 percent, or $1.8 million, of the overall $2.13 million projected budget increase.

Another major source of the budget increase is the projected loss of funds from the opening of Harpswell Coastal Academy, a public charter school opening this fall that is expected to enroll 15 students currently attending Brunswick schools.

Perzanoski said he projects this to cost Brunswick schools more than $195,000 because of the way, under state law, funding for charter schools follows the students from their local school districts.

The superintendent’s figure is based on nine sixth-grade and nine ninth-grade Brunswick students attending HCA this fall, though preliminary enrollment figures provided by HCA indicate that only 15 of these students currently attend Brunswick public schools. The other three attend private or home schools.

According to John D’Anieri, head of HCA, the projected cost for Brunswick schools would be $124,000.

Perzanoski acknowledged the projected cost as a result of HCA could increase or decrease depending on several factors, including how many HCA students require special education services and if the state Legislature changes the way Maine funds charter schools.

Perzanoski said he supports Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen’s recent proposal for charter school funding, which would spread the costs of charter schools to every school district in Maine.

“His plan is a really good one,” Perzanoski said, “so I would certainly support that and I hope the Legislators do as well.”

Several unfilled full-time and stipend positions may remain unfilled depending on how the School Board votes. Some of the positions that remain in flux include an elementary school teacher, gifted and talented teacher and primary behavior interventionist.

Perzanoski has split the positions into two priority groups, and he said the School Board cannot provide funding for all of them.

Perzanoski also proposed several reductions to the budget, including moving some costs, like the razing of the defunct Jordan Acres Elementary School and moving the bus garage, to the town’s capital improvement budget. 

The suggested reductions amount to more than $2.1 million.

By the end of Wednesday’s budget forum, a few board members had some strong words for charter schools and residents who might feel reluctant to support an increased budget.

“We’re tasked with ensuring that each student in Brunswick receives an adequate education, and I don’t think that’s enough,” Vice Chairwoman Michele Joyce said. “Let’s change that expectation from adequate to excellent. The state continues to give to give us challenges and one of the latest is publicly funded charter schools. Let’s keep Brunswick students in Brunswick by providing an excellent education for all of our students.”

Chairman Jim Grant addressed budget concerns for residents without children in Brunwick’s school district.

“One of the things I’m asked a lot by people that don’t have children, like myself, or the elderly, is ‘why is it that we pay to schools?’ and the answer has always been, ‘it benefits the community,'” Grant said. “… I can’t answer that anymore because now our dollars are going outside of this town to fund what is essentially a private education through public dollars.

“I think it’s irresponsible if we continue to allow money to leave this district that the taxpayers put into it, so yes, I’m going to ask them to pay a little bit more in the hope that more of it stays here.”

The Town Council and School Board will hold a joint public hearing on the school budget April 25.

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.

Sidebar Elements

LePage responds to School Board

BRUNSWICK — During the School Board’s regular monthly meeting Wednesday, Chairman Jim Grant revealed that Gov. Paul LePage has responded to the board’s resolution opposing several elements of the governor’s proposed state biennial budget.

“‘I was disappointed your resolution offered no suggestions or solutions, but also that it contained several inaccuracies,'” Grant said, reading from LePage’s letter. “As governor of the state of Maine I have an obligation to present the legislature with a budget that is balanced.”

Grant said he and administrators will look into the board’s resolution and determine if there are any inaccuracies. He said he will then take any amendments back to the board for a vote.

Board member Rich Ellis took issue with LePage’s letter because he said the state has not funded its proper allocation for public schools in 10 years.

“Until Augusta does such, I’m not too prone to listening to their opinion on where funding should or should not be,” Ellis said. “The gap that they have created in funding, well over $200 million, has had an impact on our district, as well as every district in this state.”

The board voted March 13 to send the resolution to LePage and the town’s legislators.

The resolution outlined opposition to the shift in teacher retirement costs from the state to municipalities and to a proposal to use funds originally meant for local schools to fill the state budget gap.

— Dylan Martin