Falmouth schools seek 4.5% budget increase

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FALMOUTH — The school superintendent said Tuesday that despite changes in state funding, the budget committee has been able to produce a spending plan with modest increases that doesn’t pass significant cost to taxpayers.

Superintendent Barbara Powers and her leadership committee presented the fiscal year 2014 budget to the School Board at a March 15 workshop.

Her proposal asks for just over $29 million in funding, a total increase of nearly 4.5 percent over this year. She said she was hoping to keep the increase around 3 percent, but an expected shift in state retirement funding boosted the increase by almost 1.5 percent.

“We knew we would have fixed costs, but we were trying to come in closer to 3 percent this year,” Powers said. “With the shift in retirement and (this year’s) curtailment, it is coming in at 4.46 percent.”

Powers said the new budget would require a “modest tax increase” of $65 per $100,000 of property value. The tax rate would rise to $10.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, compared with this year’s $9.84.

Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget shifts much of the state’s retirement funding back to school districts. Falmouth is being asked to take on 1.3 percent more of its retirement funding than last year, Powers said, or more than $383,000.

This year’s state funding curtailment of $235,000 also posed a challenge, she said, because purchases that were planned to be made during the last budget year were cut.

“We are still managing a mid-year state revenue curtailment,” Powers told the workshop, “(which has) significantly impacted all cost centers’ ability to make purchases they had planned for as part of the budget.”

“We did a lot of carving out two and three years ago,” she continued, “and tried to keep a close eye on overall increases in the face of declining revenues.”

She also said some state funding impacts have been offset by the installation of a woodchip boiler as the district’s heating source.

“We have cut our expenses significantly with wood chips,” Powers said. “We cut our expenses significantly … . The timing of us putting all our schools on that counter-balanced some of the cutbacks from the state.”

The School Board will vote on the budget at its April 2 workshop. It will move to the Town Council and the public for comment and council adoption on April 10. Voters have the final say on the budget in June.

Powers said there could be a few small tweaks before a final budget moves forward.

“I’m not positive the School Board is done with it, but they seem relatively pleased and relatively comfortable with where this is right now,” she said.

Amber Cronin can be reached at [email protected] or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.