This year’s School Administrative District 51 budget vote should have all Cumberland residents’ attention. Despite a “reasonable and balanced” characterization by the board, this budget increases local tax assessments by $2 million, an 8.5 percent increase. Unfortunately, this is nothing new.
Since 2012, SAD 51 has averaged an increase of 6 percent annually in what it raises through property taxes. Currently, we spend more than $18,000 per student annually. Yarmouth spends about $15,000, Falmouth $17,500 and Cape Elizabeth $16,000. Rather than simply owning that reality and explaining why we are higher, our superintendent and board argue about apples-to-apples comparisons and deny the relevance of the conversation. To me, the “apples” are dollars. If relative transportation costs are meaningful, or a given school’s snow removal costs are in its municipal budget, just tell us. Why choose argument and denial rather than clarity?
Another elephant in the room is the board’s unwillingness to engage with the question of what future costs look like. Obviously, the cost of existing programs continues to rise. We know we have Performing Arts Center costs coming online. What about the existing temporary classroom at the Wilson School and increases in K-3 enrollment? Can we manage this trend without tax increases to fund staff and/or facilities?
Taxpayers deserve communication that facilitates understanding and prudent fiscal leadership from the superintendent and board. It is tough to find either in the budget process to date. Unless that changes, I will be voting no on May 17.