BRUNSWICK — Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly ratified a $33.4 million budget for the Brunswick School Department.
Voters accepted the spending plan, 617-128, a nearly 5-1 margin. According to Town Clerk Fran Smith, 746 voters cast ballots during the state-mandated budget validation vote, a turnout of just under 5 percent.
Brunswick has 15,251 registered voters. Smith said about 120 voters used absentee ballots.
Because only the school budget vote was on the ballot, the town anticipated low voter turnout and consolidated polling places into just one for the election. Voters from the town’s seven districts cast votes at the Brunswick Junior High School on Columbia Avenue.
There appeared to be no organized opposition to the School Department budget, which makes up 62 percent of the town’s overall budget of $53.8 million. The Town Council unanimously adopted the entire spending plan on June 1.
The budget will maintain the current property tax rate of $22.54 per $1,000 of valuation.
The council unanimously endorsed the school budget, but three councilors objected to what they described as an 11th-hour mandate to slash $250,000 from the School Department’s original $33.7 million budget.
Although the department ultimately cut about $205,000 to meet the council’s directive for a no-tax increase budget, members of the School Board and Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said the cuts came at the expense of the start-up of a highly anticipated preschool program.
The program was scheduled to start next fall. However, according to Perzanoski, funds allocated by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to plan and start the program were diverted to meet the council’s mandate.
Two School Board members spoke against the cut during a May 18 public hearing.
Perzanoski also warned during the meeting that using ARRA funding now would make the next two budget cycles more precarious because of the loss of tuition students from Durham and federal impact aid for students from families at Brunswick Naval Air Station.
The district is expected to lose 621 base-related students next year. It’s also planning to lose most of its Durham tuition students over the next three years because of Durham’s recent consolidation with Freeport and Pownal.
Durham this year paid approximately $1.12 million to send 140 students to Brunswick High School.
“We may be out of the woods this year,” Perzanoski said. “But I have grave concerns for the next two years.”
The district originally proposed a 2009-2010 spending plan showing a 0.16 percent increase over the current year. The School Board reached that proposal by eliminating 25 jobs through attrition and closing Hawthorne School a year early.