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Savings shave 1% off proposed Cumberland-North Yarmouth school budget

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Savings shave 1% off proposed Cumberland-North Yarmouth school budget

CUMBERLAND — Savings in areas like employee health insurance and special education have helped reduced the projected fiscal 2014 budget in School Administrative District 51 by about $281,000.

The reduction trims the spending plan by 1 percent.

Next year's budget was to have increased $1.15 million, or 3.78 percent, to $31.5 million, under a proposed budget introduced last month. Now the increase could be about $860,000, or 2.83 percent.

The Cumberland-North Yarmouth district had budgeted for an approximately $216,000 hike in employee health insurance, but then found there would be no net increase, according to Finance Director Scott Poulin.

SAD 51 is also saving nearly $61,000 by not having to fund two special education technicians because two students are moving out of the district. Those ed techs will be reallocated to two incoming students, so no new employees will have to be hired.

Budget adjustments also included increases, such as nearly $17,000 for property and casualty insurance and about $15,000 for summer courses, but the net savings ended up being about $281,000.

Included in the increase is about $422,000 in costs being shifted to the school district from the state to fund employees now covered by the state retirement system. While the state and employees have previously contributed to the funding, Gov. Paul LePage is calling for school districts to pay the state's share.

Without that cost shift, the district's budget would only be increasing 1.4 percent.

Revenues offsetting expenses have included $500,000 from the current and previous fiscal years in an undesignated fund balance. But the district learned it would receive nearly $100,000 in extra revenue – from Chebeague Island's debt payment to the district and state subsidy – causing the School Board to take only $400,000 from funds the district had either saved or not spent.

Other revenues include about $215,000 in debt from Chebeague Island, which seceded from SAD 51 and Cumberland in 2007; $35,000 in miscellaneous revenue, and $11.3 million in state subsidy.

The remaining $19.2 million to be raised will come from Cumberland and North Yarmouth taxpayers. The budget savings reduced Cumberland's assessment increase from 5.29 percent to 3.24 percent; new value caused that town's tax increase to be 1.2 percent, or an extra $60 a year for a $300,000 home in that town. 

North Yarmouth's assessment increase has dropped from 3.4 percent to 1.4 percent, resulting in an extra $75 in taxes for a $300,000 home.

The proposed budget calls for no cuts in staff.

Residents who spoke at an April 11 budget public hearing expressed varying views on the spending plan.

Gigi Sanchez of Cumberland praised administrators for putting together "a feasible budget in a very difficult political climate in Augusta."

Still, she expressed concern that the budget process has been "driven to find financial savings, even if it is meant to be the curtailment of those items identified as being needed ... by our educators.

"And while responsible oversight of district resources is certainly part of the board's mission," Sanchez said, "this objective has been disproportionately relied upon to justify funding or cutting educational programming and investment that our educators, who we all acknowledge are exemplary, have said they need to get to achieve 21st century learning."

Sanchez acknowledged the financial hardship suffered by some residents of the district, but said those struggles are a community issue, not an educational issue.

"The needs of this struggling segment cannot be addressed on the backs of our children's future," she said.

Mark Smith of North Yarmouth expressed concern about tax increases, noting that in 2002, an open house lot was taxed at about $300 to $325, a range he said has increased to between $1,100 and $1,700 today.

"That came about right here in the schools," Smith said.

Decades ago, younger people could start out in the two towns, and older people could stay, Smith continued.

"We don't have that anymore," he said. "... This whole system is on a collision course; it's going to crash. How can you help but crash?"

The district budget vote will be held at the Greely High School gym June 6 at 7 p.m., followed by the budget validation referendum on June 11.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.