Initial RSU 5 budget proposal seeks 4% increase

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FREEPORT — The Regional School Unit 5 budget proposed by Superintendent Becky Foley for fiscal year 2018 represents a 4.11 percent increase over the current spending plan.

Foley recommends spending nearly $32.3 million in the budget year that starts July 1, up from this year’s $31 million – an increase of about $1.27 million. The budget proposal includes the RSU’s total operating budget and its adult education program.  

Regular classroom instruction makes up the lion’s share of the spending, with more than $12.6 million recommended in the 2017-2018 budget, up more than 4.5 percent from nearly $12.1 million this year.

Recommended special education spending is $4.38 million, compared with this year’s $4.2 million, or an increase of 4.39 percent – even though the number of special ed students is declining.

Bonnie Violette, director of instructional support for the Freeport-Durham-Pownal district, said out-of-district placement for special needs students is down from previous years. 

Last year, nine students attended programs outside of RSU 5. That number is down to five this year, Violette said.

“We’re trying to improve our programs so we don’t have to place them out,” she said. “It’s a better school experience for our students.”

Last year, 273 students were enrolled in special ed. This year, 260 students make up that area.

Percentage-wise, the largest increase comes from “all other expenditures,” according to the proposed budget. Nutrition, crossing guards and other features in this category may rise 16.30 percent. For next year, almost $264,000 is proposed, compared to this year’s nearly $227,000.

The March 1 budget introduction featured RSU 5 department leaders, including curriculum, nutrition, transportation and facilities, highlighting program concerns and direction.

Kim Austin, director of school nutrition, said student buy-in to the lunch program is an ongoing challenge. Students are buying fewer lunches, she said, and cafeteria sales are down from last year, with only 30 to 40 percent of all students participating in the meal program.

Healthier food options are being offered, part of a federal push to encourage healthier lifestyles among youngsters.

“What parents want is not the same thing as what kids want,” Austin said.

School Board members got the chance to snack on some current lunch room offerings, including a fresh fruit cup and frozen yogurt while Austin spoke.

“It’s a juggling act,” Austin said. “We ask ourselves what can we do to increase participation.”

Budget discussions were scheduled to continue Wednesday, March 8, at Freeport High School.

The board is tentatively scheduled to vote on the budget March 22. The spending plan goes to a public budget hearing May 24, followed by the budget validation referendum June 13.

Lisa Connell can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or Follow Lisa on Twitter: @connell_ld.