Revisions reduce proposed Scarborough school spending

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SCARBOROUGH — As councilors accepted a budget package of municipal and school spending at Wednesday’s meeting, school department officials said they have found ways to reduce a blueprint of increased spending.

Councilors received an estimated $39.16 million fiscal 2013 school budget as part of Town Manager Tom Hall’s $73 million budget presentation. But Kate Bolton, the School Department director of business operations, said revisions have reduced about $950,000 in proposed spending.

The budgets are now under review by the council finance committee of Chairman Ronald Ahlquist and Councilors Judith Roy and Jessica Holbrook.

Roy said the reviews are about 50 percent complete. While councilors can look over the proposed school budget that seeks an almost 13 percent increase in local taxpayer commitment, they cannot change specific line items.

Bolton said the reductions in the school budget stem from savings in debt service payments and because health insurance premiums for district staff increased by 4 percent instead of an anticipated 8 percent.

Salaries and benefits for district staff still comprise about 73 percent of the proposed budget, Bolton noted. Salaries and benefits are slated to increase $1.15 million in the budget revisions. The savings in insurance costs is $157,000.

Bolton said the department is acting on advice from financial counselors in its decision not to seek the entire $39 million for the new Wentworth Intermediate School this year.

By splitting the bond sales to fund the construction, the department was able to reduce debt service by more than $793,000. With the revisions, the school budget seeks an increase in local tax revenues of $33 million.

The district does not need the entire bond for work to begin, and Bolton said interest rates are not expected to increase much over the next few years.

The first public hearing on the budget package, with $23 million in municipal operations spending and about $11 million in municipal debt service, is Wednesday, April 11, at 7 p.m. in council chambers.

The final council vote on the combined budgets is scheduled for May 2 and the referendum vote on the school budget is May 15.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow David on Twitter: @DavidHarry8

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.