SAD 51 board OKs Cumberland-North Yarmouth school budget

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CUMBERLAND — The School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors on Monday unanimously approved a $35.9 million budget for fiscal year 2018.

The proposed spending plan now goes to voters in Cumberland and North Yarmouth twice: at a district budget meeting in the Greely High School gym at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 18, and a referendum in both towns Tuesday, June 13.

Subtracting nearly $12 million in revenues such as state subsidy, nearly $24 million would be levied in taxes on Cumberland and North Yarmouth property owners – an increase of 6.54 percent.

SAD 51, which received $11.9 million in state aid for fiscal year 2017, faces a potential subsidy loss for next year of nearly $896,000. But having heard indications from Augusta that more money could be allocated toward education, SAD 51 has factored in a loss of about $464,000 – half the potential deduction.

The final number may not be known for sure until June – around the time SAD 51 voters are due to ratify the budget, SAD 51 Superintendent Jeff Porter has said.

While supporting the budget, board member Mike Brown said he had “concerns about the state subsidy cut … and whether that cut will be more severe, and what that means for our district.”

He’s also cognizant of the public’s perception “if it’s less severe, thinking we were trying to pull a fast one when, in fact, we’re just doing the best we can with the information we have.”

“In light of the circumstances, I think it’s an amazing job” administrators and the Finance Committee performed in developing the budget, board member Vickie Bell said.

“I just hope that folks realize that we’re going to have to continue to spend,” she added. “I hope folks aren’t looking at this as a signal that (the budget) is going to be going down, because we have a lot of things that weren’t put into the budget this year, that I think we’re going to need to be looking at.”

Cumberland’s tax assessment could be $17.2 million, an increase of 3.56 percent once new valuation is factored in. North Yarmouth could be taxed $6.8 million, a 3.9 percent hike. A home valued at $350,000 would see a $238 tax increase in Cumberland and a $241.50 increase in North Yarmouth.

Although SAD 51 had originally budgeted a 9 percent health insurance increase into its spending plan, it was notified that the hike would actually be only 6 percent – a savings of $88,500.

That savings funded three items, totalling the same amount together, that were not included in the first draft budget – a learning specialist for the Pathways program ($55,000), which had received strong board support; more hours for a physical education teacher ($13,500); and an extra $20,000 toward a network upgrade lease, bringing the total to $70,000.

Major reductions include not filling a soon-to-be-vacant teaching position at Greely High School ($55,000); a decrease in the debt service ($64,000); not filling a vacant custodial position ($45,000); and a budget freeze in the current fiscal cycle that would allow SAD 51 to pay off existing leases this year, to offset expenses next year ($200,000).

Items recommended but left out of the budget include classroom furniture ($44,000); technology purchases ($56,000); a science lab teacher ($55,000); and deferring $130,000 in payments for a climate control system project at the Mabel I. Wilson Elementary School to fiscal year 2019, paying only $50,000 next year.

Proposed additions to next year’s spending plan – totaling $468,500 – include the $50,000 payment for Wilson, as well as $70,000 for a network upgrade to address bandwidth issues; $90,000 for a school bus, for which the state could reimburse the district; and $55,000 for a new teacher to facilitate increased enrollment at Wilson school.

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

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.