SAD 75 braces for at least $300K in added spending

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TOPSHAM — Although they won’t have a first draft of the fiscal 2014 budget until next month, School Administrative District 75 officials said they expect at least $300,000 in increased expenses, not including teacher salary hikes.

A “maintenance of effort” budget – retaining current staff and programs – was presented at the Finance Committee’s meeting Feb. 4, and a complete first budget draft is scheduled to be reviewed by the committee on March 4.

The current annual budget for the Topsham-Harpswell-Bowdoin-Bowdoinham district is $33.4 million.

Included in the $300,000 increase are raises for support staff and administrators – $75,000 and $50,000, respectively – according to SAD 75 Superintendent Brad Smith. Negotiations with teachers have just begun, he said, noting that those salaries increased $293,000 this year.

“That’s a ballpark of how that could still be added to the maintenance of effort budget,” Smith said.

A new phase of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, which leases laptop computers to the schools, is another unknown added cost.

Among other expected increases are approximately $10,000 in motor fuels and $15,000 in property insurance.

The district can also expect some budget reductions, such as an approximately $64,000 decrease in debt and about $60,000 in electrical utility costs.

The impact from Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed shift in teacher retirement funding is also uncertain. 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, Smith said, with an estimated $250,000 to $300,000 that could be shifted to SAD 75.

“It relieves the state of some of their financial burden for that, but it simply transfers that onto the schools,” he said.

SAD 75 is also looking to add one or two librarians to its district staff. A vacant library position has been unfilled this year while the district conducted a library study, Smith said. SAD 75 currently has two librarians serving seven schools.

Smith said he plans to recommend to the Finance Committee and School Board that a school resource officer be restored, to serve mainly at Mt. Ararat High School and as needed at Mt. Ararat Middle School. He said he considers the position, which was discontinued, to be a high priority.

SAD 75 could experience an approximately 40-student decline in enrollment, which would also affect the revenue it receives from the state. The district’s finance director, Steve Dyer, projected a loss of state revenue of more than $650,000.

The impact on enrollment from charter schools, including the recently approved Harpswell Coastal Academy, is also unknown.

Public budget forums are to be held in March and April, with formal School Board budget approval planned for the panel’s April 25 meeting. The spending plan will then undergo two public votes: at a May 25 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.