CUMBERLAND — In a meeting that drew fewer than 50 voters May 14, residents of School Administrative District 51 approved a $33.8 million budget for next year.
If supported a second time by voters at a budget validation referendum June 9, the fiscal 2016 budget will increase 3.6 percent over current spending.
In comparison, budget increases proposed in Falmouth and Yarmouth are 4.7 percent and nearly 4 percent, respectively, according to SAD 51.
With school, town and county assessments combined, Cumberland would see a tax hike of $75 for each $100,000 in property valuation, or $262.50 on a $350,000 home. The combined impact in North Yarmouth would be a $53 increase for every $100,000, or an impact of $185.50 on a $350,000 home.
The budget reflects an approximately $642,000 reduction in funding for the district from Gov. Paul LePage’s state budget proposal, stemming from three factors: $232,000 from retirement of debt for the Mabel I. Wilson School, a $120,000 reduction in bus subsidy, and $290,000 from declining enrollment and a state mil rate shift.
Additions in the budget include an increase in Greely High School staffing to support required Response to Intervention program guidelines and increased enrollment; a new elementary math program geared toward better alignment with state standards; technology infrastructure investments; new support for teacher orientation; additional Greely Middle School nursing time, and a specialist for students with unique learning needs.
Brad Hilton of Cumberland questioned the budget increase in light of the declining student population, a drop in inflation and gas prices, and a decline in state revenues.
“I appreciate this School Board,” he said, but noted that as a senior citizen he does not receive annual salary increases, “and you guys are impacting me on my real estate taxes. In my opinion, as a group you have failed to be creative and control expenses.”
With the cost of regular instruction up about $674,000, and special education instruction up about $356,000, Hilton asked why the School Board did not “force some reduction in teachers.”
“You can’t have this decreasing school population, and increasing number of teachers,” he said.
School Board member Gigi Sanchez, who chairs the panel’s Finance Committee, countered that she felt the group has been “incredibly creative” in its work on the budget.
Noting one example of that creativity, Superintendent Jeff Porter pointed out that with an enrollment drop at the middle school, two positions were moved from that school to the high school to address algebra and college preparatory needs.
“We could have laid off two teachers and then hired other teachers, and we just didn’t think that made sense,” Porter said. “We wanted to be creative, we wanted to keep our staff; we value them, and we value the students who have connections to these staff members.”