Brunswick voters OK school budget in narrowest vote yet

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BRUNSWICK — Voters on Tuesday approved a $35 million school budget for fiscal year 2014.

The budget was approved by 735-558 vote, or 56 percent of the votes cast, the lowest show of support since the school budget referendum process began in 2008.

Voter turnout was about 8 percent of 16,416 registered voters, slightly higher than the last off-year budget referendum in 2011.

Voters also supported continuing the budget referendum process for the next three years in a 868-407 vote.

The FY 2014 school budget represents a 4.7 percent increase from last year.

The increase is partially attributed to a hike in salaries, benefits, and special education and technology costs.

In addition, the school budget will create six new full-time positions and eight new stipend positions. The budget will also reinstate the position for a curriculum coordinator, and a few stipend positions.

Other full-time and stipend positions will remain unfilled, and one full-time position for a high school health teacher will be eliminated.

On the revenue side, the school budget factors in a loss of more than $195,000 in state revenue as a result of the estimated 18 local students who will attend the Harpswell charter school that opens this fall.

As in many other communities throughout the state, the Brunswick school budget does not factor in Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to shift state teacher retirement costs to municipalities.

Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski had originally estimated an extra cost of about $264,000 if LePage’s proposal – which is currently not being recommended by the state Appropriations Committee – is approved.

Likewise, the $21 million town budget does not factor in LePage’s proposal to suspend the municipal revenue-sharing program for two years, which could cost the town more than $1 million if approved. The Appropriations Committee is also not recommending this proposal.

If costs are higher or revenue is lower than expected as a result of the biennial state budget, Town Manager Gary Brown in May said taxes would either go up or the Town Council would have to make cuts to programs and services.

As it is right now, the combined budget will increase the tax rate by 6.6 percent, or an extra $1.64 to the current tax rate of $24.90 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Becky Smith, a Water Street resident, was one of the 735 who voted “yes” on the budget and “no” on continuing the referendum process. She said she had been following the town’s budget process and believed the School Board and Town Council did an adequate job in preparing their budgets.

“I believe we elect officials to make these decisions and we don’t need to reaffirm those decisions,” Smith said.

Peter Simmons, a Columbia Avenue resident, voted “yes” on the budget and “yes” on continuing the referendum process. He currently does not have children in public schools

“The Town Council and School Board have been pretty thorough about how they work the budget,” Simmons said, “and I don’t mind paying taxes for educating our children.”

Hope Lavender, who worked 12 years as an ed. tech for School Administrative District 75, voted “no” on the budget and “yes” to continuing the referendum process.

“I believe that the town has wasted a lot our tax money,” Lavender said, citing the town’s purchase of the old Times Record building on Industry Road and to then move into larger municipal facilities.

In addition, she said she didn’t think the increased school budget was appropriate given the declining population of students since the Brunswick Naval Air Station closed in 2011.

“I’m trying to send a message to the Town Council that they aren’t handling our tax money well,” Lavender said.

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