Cumberland-North Yarmouth school budget hike holds at 2.8%

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CUMBERLAND — The proposed fiscal 2018 budget in School Administrative District 51 remains about 2.8 percent higher than current spending, despite three recent additions.

While SAD 51 had budgeted a 9 percent health insurance increase into the proposed $35.9 million budget, it was notified that the cost hike would actually be only 6 percent – a savings of $88,500.

That savings went to fund three items, totalling the same amount together, that were not included in the first draft budget – a Pathways program extended learning specialist ($55,000), which had received strong board support; more hours for a physical education teacher ($13,500); and an extra $20,000 toward a network upgrade lease, bringing the total to $70,000.

Subtracting nearly $12 million in revenues such as state subsidy, nearly $24 million would be levied in taxes to Cumberland and North Yarmouth property owners – a 6.54 percent increase.

A SAD 51 Board of Directors budget public hearing Monday drew only one speaker – former board member Pete Wilson of Cumberland – who argued that the district is spending too much per pupil compared with neighboring high-performing districts.

“We’re a great school (district); however, it looks to me like we’re overspending,” he said, noting the more the public debt increases, the greater the load today’s students will have to shoulder as adults.

Comparing its tax assessed per-pupil cost to nearby high-performing districts, SAD 51 spends more than $11,800, compared with $11,700 in Yarmouth, almost $13,100 in Falmouth and nearly $13,500 in Cape Elizabeth, Porter reported during a budget presentation early this month.

SAD 51, which received $11.9 million in state aid for fiscal year 2017, faces a potential subsidy loss of nearly $896,000. But having heard indications from Augusta that more money could be allocated toward education, SAD 51 has factored in a loss of about $464,000 – half the potential deduction.

The final number may not be known for sure until June – around the time SAD 51 voters are due to ratify the budget a second and final time, Porter said.

The tax assessment to Cumberland could be $17.2 million, an increase of 3.56 percent once new valuation is factored in. North Yarmouth could be taxed $6.8 million, a 3.9 percent hike, according to Porter.

A home valued at $350,000 would see a $238 tax increase in Cumberland and a $241.50 increase in North Yarmouth.

Without cutting about $476,000 from the draft budget, and not funding about $420,000 in other proposed expenditures, the spending plan would have increased 5.59 percent, Porter said.

Significant reductions include not filling a soon-to-be-vacant teaching position at Greely High School ($55,000); a drop in debt service ($64,000); not filling a vacant custodial position ($45,000); and a budget freeze in the current fiscal cycle that would allow SAD 51 to pay off existing leases this year, to offset expenses next year ($200,000).

Items recommended but not slated for funding include classroom furniture ($44,000); technology purchases ($56,000); a science lab teacher ($55,000); and deferring $130,000 in payments for a climate control system project at the Mabel I. Wilson Elementary School to fiscal year 2019, paying only $50,000 next year.

Proposed additions to next year’s budget – totaling $468,500 – include the $50,000 payment for Wilson, as well as $70,000 for a network upgrade to address bandwidth issues; $90,000 for a school bus, for which the state could reimburse the district; and $55,000 for a new teacher to facilitate increased enrollment at Wilson school.

The board is set to adopt the budget Monday, May 1, after which voters will get two cracks at it – at a district budget meeting May 18, and at referendum June 13.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.