Cumberland-North Yarmouth voters narrowly ratify $37.3M school budget

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CUMBERLAND — The School Administrative District 51 budget squeaked through in Tuesday’s budget validation referendum, 2,159 to 2,023.

Meanwhile, three uncontested candidates won election to the SAD 51 Board of Directors.

The $37.3 million budget for fiscal year 2019, which passed 52 to 48 percent, received initial public approval at a district budget meeting May 17. On Tuesday it passed 1,381 to 1,355 in Cumberland and 778-668 in North Yarmouth.

“While we are gratified by the result and the continued support of our schools, we remain mindful of the impact that appropriately funding education in SAD 51 has on all taxpayers,” SAD 51 board Chairwoman Gigi Sanchez said in an email Tuesday night. “We remain committed, as always, to diligently reviewing the budget proposed by the Superintendent to ensure a proper balance is struck between providing the quality education we all want for our students, and doing so as cost-effectively as possible.”

The budget debate resulted in unusual sparring between the SAD 51 board and the Cumberland Town Council. The council on May 14 issued a resolution that asked the School Board to take another look at reducing the budget, in light of the impact on taxpayers who find it increasingly difficult to afford to stay in town.

“This year’s budget process stood out in creating divisions between our community that in reality share very common goals,” Sanchez said. “Funding quality education and supporting those who cannot afford increases in property taxes are not mutually exclusive. Nor should our community have to give up one for the sake of the other. Both are achievable if we work together and cease suggesting that any one particular viewpoint necessarily owns what is ‘best’ for towns.”

Sanchez added that regardless of whether a resident voted for or against the budget, “we hope to work with all stakeholders for the entire budget season so that all can observe, first hand, the hard work that the board – all of whom are members of our community – put in to ensuring that the quality education SAD 51 delivers is provided as efficiently as possible.

Shirley Storey-King, a longtime Cumberland councilor who has said the budget was too high, on Tuesday spoke to the need for better communication between the School Board and the Town Council.

“I’m concerned about … the process that they go about to build their budget; I think it’s time to talk about what that looks like and go forward that way,” Storey-King said, calling for greater transparency in the board’s budget process.

Offsetting spending is $11.3 million in projected revenue, down 5.5 percent ($664,000) from the current year. The decline is due largely to a $442,000 loss in state subsidy ($11.3 million down to $10.9 million), which, in the last three years, has declined by more than $1 million, Superintendent Jeff Porter has said.

Of the 3.8 percent increase, 2.7 percent comprises fixed costs needed to open district doors with all personnel and programs still in place. The other 1.1 percent represents about $392,000 in strategic priorities, while another $537,000 of such priorities went unfunded, according to budget information presented at the meeting.

The original budget increase, as rolled out in March, was 4.65 percent. But a $450,000 savings in projected employee health insurance costs, along with another $75,000 in savings due to recently announced retirements and salary line adjustments, helped shave that hike.

That savings led Porter to propose reinstating three positions that were scheduled to be cut: a teacher at both Greely middle and high schools ($62,600 each), and an elementary-level educational technician ($35,000), which added $160,000 back to the budget. He also proposes adding a new kindergarten teacher at the Mabel I. Wilson School ($62,500) because about 20 more students registered over last year.

A second-grade teacher at the Mabel I. Wilson School ($68,000), also to address growing class sizes, was already in the proposed budget.

With Vickie Bell and Karen Campbell – who represent Cumberland on the SAD 51 Board of Directors – not running again, Margo Harrington and Ann Kerr ran unopposed for those seats. They received 1,364 and 1,494 votes, respectively.

Kate Perrin ran unopposed for a second, three-year North Yarmouth term on the SAD 51 Board of Directors, receiving 1,089 votes.

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

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.