Brunswick school budget outlook: More shrinkage

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BRUNSWICK — Despite the school budget increasing for the current school year, it may see another decrease like it did in the past four years.

“Over the past few years the Brunswick taxpayers have had to pick up more of the cost of public education,” Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski said Wednesday night at the School Board’s first public forum on the budget.

Perzanoski indicated the fiscal 2014 budget is likely to be smaller than the current budget. He also discussed various factors that will help determine the school district’s state subsidies.

The school chief said that based on Gov. Paul LePage’s announcement that schools will receive flat funding from the state, next year’s budget will be different from the current one, even considering the $235,000 curtailment the department currently faces.

Based on the curtailment proposed by LePage in December, the School Department’s current state subsidy is about $10.2 million, a 12 percent decrease from the previous year.

“There’s going to be differences in assessments of the property and mil rate, as well as the three-year average of the student population,” Perzanoski said, “so we’re not exactly sure as to how high or low that figure will be. If we had to guess, it will probably be lower this year.”

Perzanoski noted that while the number of students decreased from about 2,500 in 2011 to just move than 2,300 in 2012, it has increased a little since the annual Oct. 1 population count. A three-year average of the school district’s population is one of the factors that will determine its General Purpose Aid for next year, he said.

“What we’re hoping is that finally after five years this population is stabilizing,” Perzanoski said, “and we’d certainly like to see it on the upswing,”

Another factor in determining next year’s school budget is how much surplus the department can transfer from the current year.

Perzanoski noted the department’s $2.4 million surplus will move to the next budget to mitigate the burden on taxpayers. But that’s $1 million less than what the School Department was able to transfer this year.

“So we have a million-dollar gap in revenue,” he said.

Perzanoski also noted that because of LePage’s proposal to reduce the amount the state pays into the teacher retirement fund, the School Department may have to pay an extra $261,000 for next year’s budget.

Perzanoski said a proposed Harpswell charter school, which could be approved by the Maine Charter School Commission next month, may take more money away from next year’s school budget. 

He said that for every Brunswick sixth-grader who attends the Harpswell charter school next fall, about $10,000 will be diverted from the school budget. For every ninth-grader who attends, about $12,000 will be lost.

“We have no idea what the first year is as to how many students go, but for every student that goes, that money has to go with them,” Perzanoski said.

When board member Janet Connors asked him for an estimate, Perzanoski said he expects between 10 and 20 students to choose the charter school.

The School Board will continue to discuss the budget with workshops throughout February, March and April. More information about the state subsidy for next year is expected to come out over the next few weeks.

State Reps. Matthea Daughtry, D-Brunswick, and Charles Priest, D-Brunswick, were present for Wednesday night’s budget meeting. They said they are concerned about the impact LePage’s budget proposal will have on the local school system.

“We got a pretty good overview of that tonight, and it’s a concern,” Priest said.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.

Editor’s Note: The article has been updated to correct a statement regarding the school budget trend.

Sidebar Elements

November vote likely on Brunswick school bond

BRUNSWICK — A bond to renovate and expand two schools is now expected to go to a November referendum.

Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski said that while the School Board could still schedule the bond referendum for June, it’s becoming more likely that won’t be the case.

He said the board has a lot of work left on the plan for Brunswick Junior High School and Coffin Elementary School.

Board member Rich Ellis said he would prefer to schedule the bond, which could cost as much as $21 million, for a November referendum. He said the sense of urgency for the facilities bond isn’t as great as initially believed, because some factors have changed.

Perzanoski said one of these changes is that 125 families who were expected to move to Brunswick to work at Bath Iron Works are no longer coming. And the number of students from new housing in Brunswick is lower than expected, because most of the homeowners are either young or retired couples.

More information will be known about the school facilities bond when the School Board meets again for a public facilities meeting in the next few weeks.

— Dylan Martin