SCARBOROUGH — At a public hearing Feb. 5 on the school budget, the only residents who provided input spoke in support of the district’s new food allergy program.
But when it was the board’s turn, member John Cole asked for more information on increases in several areas.
The current school budget is $35 million. The proposed fiscal 2010 budget calls for nearly a 3.5 percent increase, which would bring the total to $36.3 million.
Superintendent of Schools David Doyle said increases include the addition of a half-time social worker, rehiring an ed tech for the Pleasant Hill School library, supporting an expanding English ESL program that now includes 71 students and involves 25 different languages, and continuing work on the new math curriculum that will be introduced at the middle school.
The big question is revenue from the state, Doyle said. He said he hopes the state will make a decision by the second reading of the budget in three weeks.
Although Cole eventually agreed to e-mail his questions ahead of the next meeting, he emphasized the public’s need to understand why the budget reflects so many increases.
“The administration needs to be ready to answer these questions,” he said. “There has to be some simplified explanation when I see a number go up 16 percent, 13 percent – personally, I would vote that down … unless I had somebody explain to me in clear language, layman’s terms, and not a 200-page budget.”
Cole also called for a budget increase of no more than 3 percent, which would reduce the total by $160,000. He asked Doyle where that amount could be cut.
If the Maine Education Association Trust that oversees health insurance should decide, as it did last year, to front some money in order to lower the insurance rate to 4 percent, the reduction would bring the budget increase in line with Cole’s request, Doyle said.
After a second reading and vote at the next School Board meeting, the budget will go to the Town Council Finance Committee and then to the full council, where there will be another public hearing in April or May. Within 14 days of the council’s second reading, the budget will go to the public for a validation vote. Though the date is not yet finalized, the board is looking at May 12 for the public to weigh in.
Five members of the public who spoke expressed their support of the new food allergy program. Matt Arpin, of Coulthard Farms Road, thanked the board for its decision to adopt the program.
“You don’t realize how important that is,” he said. “We don’t want special attention but we want to make sure our son is safe.”
Although the program does not ban certain foods, it sets up a list of procedures for the school to follow that ensures children’s safety, including special buckets and cloths just for cleaning allergy-free tables, signs on classroom doorways to alert visitors of any student with allergies and a letter that is sent home to parents informing them their child is in a classroom with someone who has a severe food allergy.