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SAD 75 spending plan could boost taxes 10%

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SAD 75 spending plan could boost taxes 10%

TOPSHAM — Next year's draft budget for School Administrative District 75 suggests a more-than 10 percent increase in local taxes.

But despite that, public feedback at a sparsely attended forum Tuesday tended to be positive, and in agreement with district proposals.

The second of three budget forums, held at Williams-Cone Elementary School, drew fewer than a dozen people. The final forum will be held at Bowdoin Central School at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 1.

The fiscal 2015 spending plan being reviewed by the district totals $36.4 million, an increase of 4.9 percent, which includes adult education. The taxpayer burden would increase to $21.6 million, a hike of 10.1 percent.

The nearly $2 million tax increase would be spread across SAD 75's four towns: about $724,000 in Topsham, nearly $768,000 in Harpswell, about $280,000 in Bowdoin and about $209,000 in Bowdoinham.

In seeking input from the community, SAD 75 Superintendent Brad Smith told audience members, the district has heard from parents who want the best teachers available, working in classes of manageable sizes, as well as a comprehensive program that includes technology, special education, the arts, advanced placement and enrichment.

"And what we heard, are people who said, 'I moved here because of the quality of the schools, or I choose to live here because of the quality of the schools, and the reductions that have been made year after year after year compromise that,'" Smith said. "We heard that, we listened, and that's why we're presenting the budget that we are."

While he works 90 miles north as a school curriculum coordinator in Dexter, Matt Drewette-Card said he lives in Topsham so his child can stay in SAD 75.

"This district is on the cutting edge of a lot of amazing initiatives," he said. "We're talking about things like teacher evaluations, we have to budget for proficiency education; these things work together, and are going to not only make our students more effective learners, but are gong to cause tremendous improvement for enrollment in our district."

The budget discontinues a reliance on the district's fund balance, which has been used to preserve positions and programs and to try to keep the local contribution level. But it also dropped the balance too far, Smith has said.

While the fiscal 2014 budget used $928,000 from fund balance, next year's spending plan proposes to use none, requiring the lost revenue to be made up in the local contribution.

Potential budget increases include $480,000 for contracted salary raises, $313,000 for health insurance, $167,500 toward facility projects, and an added expense of $364,000 from local students attending public charter schools, including Harpswell Coastal Academy.

The proposed spending plan calls for additions including a counselor/social worker at Harpswell Community School, at a cost of $12,000; a half-day of professional development for support staff, more than $12,000, and teacher/principal evaluation, including training, tools and materials, for $39,000.

The SAD 75 Board of Directors is due to formally approve the fiscal 2015 spending plan May 8, with district-wide approval to come in two steps: a Town Meeting-style gathering on May 22, and a budget validation referendum on June 10.

Log onto link75.org for more information.

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