LePage budget frightens SAD 75, Brunswick officials

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BRUNSWICK — Of the 242 school districts in Maine, Brunswick would take the third-hardest hit – about $1.1 million – from an overhaul in school funding in Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed biennial budget, according to School Board member Ben Tucker.

Board members and administrators from Brunswick and School Administrative District 75 met Wednesday with area lawmakers to discuss what they can do to challenge the cuts.

“It’s frightening,” Brunswick board member Teresa Gillis said. “This is really frightening.”

The sum of LePage’s range of policy changes and cuts “would be destructive to public education,” SAD 75 board member and educator Matthew Drewette-Carol said.

Though several proposed changes drew ire from the group, special attention was paid to a proposition that would eliminate state funding for district administrative costs – which, in Brunswick, would shift $600,000 to town taxpayers.

“So much of this is distasteful, but that piece is so bothersome,” Brunswick member Cory Perrault said, adding that there has always been “the expectation that you have to do more with less. Now they’re taking away the less.”

Brunswick Finance Director Julia Henze said a $1.1 million absorption by local taxpayers translates to about a 2 percent increase in property taxes.

School Board members Teresa Gillis and Sarah Singer said they would testify at a hearing devoted to the education budget on Friday in Augusta.

State Reps. Denise Tepler, D-Topsham, and Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, serve on the Appropriations Committee and Education Committee, respectively.

Tepler, who is new to the Appropriations Committee, said the panel is in the midst of an eight-week-long series of hearings on the budget.

Daughtry said the Education Committee needs to submit its line-by-line amendments to and approvals of the budget by March 29. She encouraged those wishing to provide input to do so prior to March 13, when the committee begins work sessions.

After the hearings are complete, the committee will negotiate the proposed revisions. The Senate- and House-approved budget must be back to the governor by June 21.

LePage has 10 days to act on the revised draft. If he vetoes the package, Tepler said, she hopes the Legislature will have enough numbers to override.

By the time a state budget is approved, the referendum on Brunswick’s school budget will have been held in mid-June.

In light of that uncertainly, Gillis said the School Department will have to create “two different budgets” over the coming months, and that “it’s still up in the air.”

Too a degree, she noted, the board also leaves room for revisions and suggestions by the Town Council.

“But this is more dramatic,” she said.

Brunswick Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said the schools are supposed to notify staff by the end of May about whether they’ll have jobs next year.

Gillis said the potential $1.1 million blow is especially jarring, given that she expected additional revenue for the district after the passing of Question 2 on Maine’s 2016 referendum ballot.

The new law adds a 3 percent tax on income over $200,000, earmarked for education.

Daughtry explained that LePage’s budget proposal provides a major tax cut to that income bracket, essentially “a work-around” to nullify the voter-approved surcharge.

Gillis and board member Sarah Singer both worked on the Question 2 campaign.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Rep. Denise Tepler, D-Topsham, addressed a group of concerned school board members and administrators from the Brunswick School District and SAD 75 at a March 1 to discuss changes to state education funding.

Edited: The number of school superintendents in Maine had been used instead of the number of school districts.

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.