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South Portland School Board OKs budget

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South Portland School Board OKs budget

SOUTH PORTLAND — The School Board on Monday unanimously approved a more than $40.5 million budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.
The budget lays out expenditures based on an $875,000 cut in state education subsidy and does not include any potential funding from the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The lack of clarity surrounding the district's revenue is expected to force the board to reconvene later this month to make any necessary amendments. At the final budget hearing last week, board members signaled they would not increase expenditures if those revenues come in higher than anticipated.
Instead, the board hopes to reduce the tax burden on residents while also generating good will among voters, who will be asked to not only approve the budget, but also to OK borrowing $5.85 million for repairs at the high school and middle schools.
Last week, board member Ralph Baxter argued that any excess revenue should be rolled into a maintenance account. This week, board member Michael Eastman suggested the board consider reinstating the curriculum coordinator position, which was one of 16 jobs eliminated in the budget.
Superintendent of Schools Suzanne Godin said there will be no layoffs associated with the 16 eliminated positions, because the district anticipated a difficult budget year and only hired people for one-year terms. That foresight was applauded by the board.
"To eliminate the positions we eliminated without eliminating people's jobs, especially in this economy, I think shows the tremendous amount of respect the adminstration and superintendent have for the people that work within this system," Vice Chairman Richard Carter said.
Meanwhile, Godin said the schools' employee unions have signaled a willingness to reopen their contracts and discuss ways to reduce costs in next year's budget. One of the cost-saving measures likely to be discussed is a freeze of scheduled salary increases.
"I have met with the Administrator's Association and they're willing to do their part," said Godin, who indicated a meeting has been scheduled with the teachers' union, too.
As it stands now, the $40.54 million budget is expected to increase the local tax rate by 3.4 percent, which is within the City Council's budget guidance of a 3.5 increase. Barring a change in projected revenues, the school budget would add 31 cents to its share of the mil rate, which is $9.47 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Godin's original budget proposal eliminated 11 positions: a high school social studies teacher, a data manager, a building control specialist and five coaching stipends. Those reductions, however, still left next year's proposed budget more than $263,000 in the red.
To make up the difference, the board freed up more than $162,000 by cutting an additional five positions: a special education social worker, a special education teacher, a certification coordinator and two cheering coaches.
The district also expects to save $87,750 in fuel costs, more than $20,900 in substitute teacher costs, $5,000 in consolidated athletic trips and $5,600 by beginning to move school snow plowing in house, rather than contracting it out.
The School Board was originally scheduled to present its budget to the City Council on April 1. That presentation has been moved to April 8, when the city manager will also present the city budget.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net.
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