Yarmouth schools face revenue-gap challenge
YARMOUTH — A draft School Department budget predicts a 22 percent decline in revenues, suggesting there could be cuts to staffing, textbooks and technology.
The fiscal year 2014 draft budget could mean an estimated 5.4 percent tax increase, based on the current property tax rate, due to more than $400,000 in lost revenue and other funds, Business Director Herb Hopkins said.
The losses are attributed to a combination of about $172,000 in state curtailments, $126,000 in tax stabilization money and $150,000 from Clipper Care, a former day-care service run by the department, which was turned into all-day kindergarten last year, Hopkins said.
"I don't think (the tax increase) is going to fly with taxpayers," he said, adding that the draft will likely be reworked by administrators and the School Committee.
"It's pretty hard to come in with a budget considering contract negotiations and salaries in the budget go up normally anyway, but to lose so much in revenue makes it really challenging."
The state revenue decrease is part of Gov. Paul LePage's plan to reduce state spending by $35.5 million, with $12.58 million of that reduction coming from General Purpose Aid for schools.
Clipper Care had created a surplus over the years and built up about $150,000 to be used for an all-day kindergarten program instituted last year. This year, that surplus is no longer in the budget, accounting for lost revenue at the district level.
The budget, presented late last week as one of former Superintendent Judy Paolucci's last acts, shows an overall increase of 2.78 percent this year, up from 1.85 percent last year. But despite the increase, the budget is on par with the average increase in the last decade, according to the draft budget numbers.
School Committee Chairwoman Abby Diggins said although Yarmouth doesn't rely as heavily on state funding as some other districts, the cuts will limit flexibility.
"It's scary and tough and we're going to have to figure it out," she said, adding that the board will be discussing the budget publicly next week and will have a better idea how to proceed by the end of the meeting.
"I think we need to put or heads together and see what our options are and start trying to figure it out," Diggins said. "We want to maintain the great level of education we provide, but with what's happening in Augusta, unfortunately it usually falls to the property taxpayers. But we're not saying we've decided that's what's going happen."
The draft budget calls for possible reductions in funding for textbooks and equipment to make up for lost revenue, with Harrison Middle School bearing the brunt of that impact. The school could lose about $38,000 originally intended to be used to buy new math textbooks, because Paolucci decided social studies book needs were greater, Hopkins said.
Another area where schools could make cuts is to the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, which provides funding for student laptop computers. This year's computer lease is projected to be more expensive than last year's, likely resulting in a less equipment to make up for costs, according to the draft budget.
"The budget right now doesn't have a lot of extra stuff in it," Hopkins said, noting that the draft also reduces technology spending in kindergarten through eighth grade.
For expenses, the department added two new teachers for instruction and four new education technicians for special education last summer.
School Department salaries will see an increase of 4.1 percent, about $523,000, while benefits will increase by nearly 5 percent, about $151,000 more than last year, according to the draft. Salaries account for about 64 percent of the budget.
Hopkins said officials will continue to look for other sources of revenue and savings. He noted a potential for revenue in the now-limited Clipper Care, and drawing money from a $50,000 reserve account for furniture.
The committee may decide to dip into the $85,000 contingency fund or a $210,000 capital reserve account to offset any budget adjustments and help reduce the tax impact, but all consideration is speculative right now, Hopkins said,
Another challenge the department will face during budget deliberations is working with an interim superintendent.
Yarmouth resident Ron Barker took over for Paolucci this week, and although he has years of experience working on budgets as a former administrator and superintendent, he said it is still difficult to jump into these situations.
The committee will hold budget workshops at 7 p.m. on Feb. 5 and Feb. 12 at Yarmouth High School.
The committee plans to adopt the budget March 14 and present it to the Town Council on March 21. If approved by the council, the budget then goes to voters in June.