SAD 75 board OKs budget with 4.1% tax hike

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TOPSHAM — A School Administrative District 75 budget for next year that proposes a 4.4 percent increase, resulting in a 4.1 percent tax hike, goes to voters twice this spring.

The SAD 75 Board of Directors voted 8-2 in favor of the $34.7 million fiscal 2014 spending plan April 25, with members Jane Scease and James Conners opposed.

If the budget is approved, the local contribution from SAD 75’s four communities – Topsham, Harpswell, Bowdoin and Bowdoinham – could increase 4.1 percent, to $19.6 million.

Topsham’s taxes would increase 5.2 percent, to $7.9 million; Harpswell’s, 3.6 percent, to $6.9 million; Bowdoin’s, 5.5 percent, to $2.3 million, and Bowdoinham’s, 0.9 percent, to $2.5 million.

Planned additions in next year’s spending plan include a new librarian, and restoration of a school resource officer, who would serve mainly at Mt. Ararat High School and as needed at Mt. Ararat Middle School.

About $260,000 could be added in special education funding to cover potential out-of-district placements, transportation and additional educational technician support.

The district also expects to cut half the time of both a physical education teacher and an art teacher at the high school, and half a Spanish position at the high and middle schools.

Budget challenges and declining enrollment in Chinese language classes are factors behind the proposed elimination of that program in next year’s budget, although several community members have asked that the program be restored.

“I just feel that we’ve cut too much,” Scease said on Monday, adding that she thinks the SAD 75 communities would rather not see those cuts.

Conners praised the work of the Finance Committee in developing the budget, noting that “we cut back lots of things,” but saying he would like to see more done, if possible, to keep taxes down.

Although SAD 75 expected to get $13.3 million in subsidy from the state for fiscal 2013, it ended up receiving $13.15 million. The district is projected to receive $13.9 million in fiscal 2014, although it also expects to shoulder most of a new burden of nearly $500,000, as a result of Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed shift in teacher retirement funding.

While the state and employees now contribute to that funding, LePage is calling for school districts to pick up about half the state’s share.

The spending plan will undergo two public votes – a May 23 district budget meeting, and a June 11 budget validation referendum.

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

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.