Without revenue info, SAD 51 budget still in the dark
2.98% spending increase proposed
CUMBERLAND —The School Administrative District 51 budget process is proving frustrating to school and town officials and citizens alike, as spending projections are outlined with little information on next year's expected revenues.
Without federal stimulus package information or next year's state subsidy figure – both of which will come from the state – SAD 51 officials have been forced to "flail around" to create the expense side of the budget without knowing its true impact on the tax rate, Superintendent Robert Hasson said.
Incomplete budget information has left some fearful that a proposed 2.98 percent increase in spending will make a significant dent in taxpayers' wallets at a time when many are facing flat or decreasing salaries or job losses.
The proposed budget is $28.9 million, up $837,000 from this year.
School Board member Bob Vail expressed concern over the proposed increase. "It's got to be lower than that," he said, "it's got to be closer to zero."
School Board member Jim Bailinson responded that without revenue information, "it's hard to see what increase is palatable."
Bringing the budget to a zero percent increase would require cuts of about $850,000. And those additional cuts, according to School Board Chairman David Perkins, would likely be from staff positions.
The 2.98 percent budget increase consists mostly of contractual salary and benefit increases of $809,000, or 2.89 percent, meaning that actual increases to provided services total less than 1 percent of the budget. Proposed increases include adding one fifth-grade teacher to bring class sizes from near 25 to near 21 students per class, as well as new textbooks for middle school math and high school International Baccalaureate, English 11 and French 4 classes. In order to control increases, cuts and reallocations were made, including reductions of education technicians in kindergarten through grade 5 and three full-time equivalent teachers.
Hasson said that the proposed budget does little more than maintain current services.
"This is not a wild budget as far as new ideas or new times," he said. "I do believe this takes care of some immediate problems that need to be solved, and keeps us headed in the right direction."
School officials predicted this would be a difficult budget year even before the economy crashed last fall. A $1.7 million revenue decrease was already in the cards with the loss of Chebeague Island settlement monies – when the district seemed destined to consolidate with Falmouth Schools, it opted to give Chebeague money back to Cumberland and North Yarmouth taxpayers rather than share it with Falmouth.
Taxpayers were given back $1.7 million in each of 2008 and 2009, but with that money gone, they'll now have to fill that hole in the budget.
"We gave up our savings account and gave it to the taxpayers," School Finance Committee Chairman Tom Shepard said, explaining that while growth has been limited in anticipation of losing those funds, "the district is not getting smaller, and (school services are) not getting less expensive to provide."
Combined with the sinking economy, this year's state curtailment of school subsidy, and expected flat or decreased subsidy for next year, SAD 51 is facing a perfect budget storm, according to Cumberland Town Manager Bill Shane. Shane recently said his current hope is that the percent increase isn't in the double digits.
After meeting with the state education commissioner earlier this week, SAD 51 expects the federal stimulus package to undo this year's $350,000 curtailment, which would increase the carry-over into next year's budget. They also hope it will prevent a decrease in state subsidy for next year. No final information or rules on spending federal monies are available yet, however, so the district can not safely anticipate anything.
The School Board expects to have a more complete idea of revenues at its April 6 meeting, when public comment on the budget is welcome. Shepard said that if citizens are concerned with the 2.98 percent increase, and "if there are services we're providing that you want to see cut, now is the time to tell us."
Shepard also asked residents for "a little patience" with the revenue side of the budget, while SAD 51 waits for the state government to reveal what revenue for next year is going to look like.
A complete budget will be set by the School Board in a public vote May 21, but voters will have the final say, in a referendum scheduled for May 26.
Reductions totaling $550,000 have been proposed as part of the SAD 51 school budget. Those cuts include:
• 4.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) education technicians in kindergarten through grade 5. One will now be funded by a grant.
• 3 FTE teachers, one each from K-5, Greely Middle School, and Greely High School.
• Small parts (0.1 and 0.2 FTE) of teacher positions in K-12 art, music, and physical education. Cuts are not reductions in these activities, but rather alignment with needs.
• One bus route and driver, because of the GPS tracking program implemented this year.
• Bus fuel and fuel oil, because of market drops.
• Debt service, because of debt restructuring and interest earned on investing the original loan for high school construction.
Additions have also been proposed in order to support academic growth. Those increases include:
• Textbooks and other curriculum materials for K-2 phonics, K-5 reading and science, 6-8 math, 9-12 International Baccalaureate, English 11 and French and Spanish 4.
• Grade 5 teacher.
• Previously grant-funded K-3 behavior strategist.
• Grade 6-8 social worker/behavior strategist.
• Increase time of grade 9-12 social worker/ behavior strategist.