Legislators warn Falmouth of difficult school budget year

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FALMOUTH — With budget deliberations approaching, the School Board has begun prepping for anticipated bad news from the state. 

“Budget issues are going to be as big as they ever have been,” state Sen.-elect Richard Woodbury, U-Yarmouth, told the board Monday evening. “Budgets have been flat or declining, and only, as a state, have we been able to sustain that level because of federal funding.”

Woodbury and Rep. Mary Nelson, D-Falmouth, spoke about the loss of stimulus funds from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which runs out at the end of this fiscal year.

Falmouth is looking at an $800,000 loss in revenue for the schools, an estimate that assumes no further state reductions, School Department Finance Director Dan O’Shea said.

Nelson said she had plans to introduce legislation giving districts the opportunity to choose from several health insurance options for its teachers.

“Right now, they can only use the MEA,” Nelson said of the program available to districts through the Maine Education Association. “With this (bill), they might have a choice of three or more.”

The board also voted unanimously after an executive session to offer Superintendent Barbara Powers a 3 percent raise and a $4,000 contribution toward retirement.

The School Board Finance Committee also met Monday evening before the full board meeting to discuss the upcoming budget and a nearly certain increase in health-insurance costs.

“I’m estimating 10 percent,” O’Shea said. 

The committee also discussed the renovations to the middle school, including replacing the roof, building a new space for the band and chorus, and renovating the science facilities. O’Shea said the School Department would likely go out to bid on the roof and music facilities in the spring.

O’Shea said the department would also have to issue a request for qualifications to renovate the heating system in the middle school, which currently uses steam heat.

After the holidays, the committee will begin looking at the same tiered system of cuts as it did last year. On Jan. 3, the full School Board will have a budget workshop and on Jan. 14 the Town Council Finance Committee and School Board Finance Committee will have a joint meeting to discuss the upcoming budget season.

The all-day Saturday budget workshop with the public is scheduled for Mar. 12.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net