Cumberland-North Yarmouth school budget ready for referendum

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CUMBERLAND — About 70 voters on May 18 endorsed the proposed School Administrative District 51 budget.

The meeting, which ran less than an hour at Greely High School, precedes the second and final public budget vote – a budget validation referendum in both Cumberland and North Yarmouth on Tuesday, June 13.

The $35.9 million spending plan for fiscal 2018 received unanimous approval from the SAD 51 Board of Directors May 1, and elicited little comment at last week’s meeting.

With nearly $12 million in revenues such as state subsidy subtracted from the budget total, nearly $24 million would be levied in taxes on Cumberland and North Yarmouth property owners – an increase of 6.54 percent.

SAD 51 received $11.9 million in state aid for fiscal year 2017, and faces a potential subsidy loss next year of nearly $896,000 in Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget.

“To say that this would be crippling is not overstating the impact,” Karen Campbell, a board member and chairman of the panel’s Finance Committee said during the meeting, noting that school administrative staff and School Board members “have been proactive in sharing our concerns with our legislators.”

“As one of my colleagues stated, funding for public education is under attack, and I couldn’t agree more,” Campbell added.

Still, 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 until the Legislature approves the state budget, which could be next month – around the time SAD 51 voters are due to ratify the budget a second and final time.

“I am against this level of funding,” Cumberland resident Brad Hilton said, expressing concern about the potential state subsidy reduction.

“The state is getting smarter, and looking at the efficiency of different school systems throughout the state,” he said. “And if you are spending a lot of staff money divided by the number of students … you’re called inefficient. And if you’re spending less than the average in the state, you become efficient. And the state … (is) figuring out that it pays to reward towns that are efficient.”

Cumberland’s tax assessment could be $17.2 million, an increase of $1.1 million, and North Yarmouth could be taxed $6.8 million, up about $325,000. A home valued at $350,000 would see a $224 tax increase in Cumberland and a $224 hike in North Yarmouth.

SAD 51 had originally budgeted a 9 percent health insurance increase into the spending plan that takes effect July 1, but was notified that the hike would actually be only 6 percent – a savings of $88,500.

That savings paid for three items that were not included in the first draft budget – a learning specialist for the Pathways program ($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.

Significant reductions include not filling a soon-to-be-vacant teaching position at Greely High School ($55,000); a decrease 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).

Recommended items that were left out of the budget 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.

Additions to next year’s budget – totaling $468,500 – include the $50,000 Wilson payment, 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.

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.