Cumberland-North Yarmouth voters OK school budget, with uncertainties

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CUMBERLAND — School Administrative District 51 residents on Tuesday approved a $35.9 million budget for fiscal year 2018 by a vote of 847-672.

The spending plan passed in Cumberland, 556-441, and, more narrowly in North Yarmouth, 291-231.

The budget validation referendum followed initial approval by about 70 Cumberland-North Yarmouth voters at a district budget meeting May 18.

“I am grateful to the MSAD 51 community for its continued support of the district budget and the 2,000 students who benefit directly from this support,” Superintendent Jeff Porter said in a statement Tuesday night. “Schools are the backbone of our community and the community is the backbone of our schools. Neither can be successful without the other. Thank you to our community for funding a high quality educational system for its youngest citizens.”

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

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. But having heard indications from Augusta that more money could be allocated toward education, SAD 51 factored in a loss of about $464,000 – half the potential deduction.

If SAD 51 receives the original subsidy cut at the July 1 state government deadline, “the district will need to make decisions about how to manage the difference between the projected revenue amount and the actual revenue reduction,” Superintendent Jeff Porter said in an email June 8.

“The board would be involved in approving those adjustments, if there are any, as we cannot exceed what the voters approve,” he added.

Cumberland’s tax assessment could be $17.2 million, a $1.1 million increase, 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.

The district 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.

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 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 – which total $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.