SAD 75 budget clears 1st hurdle

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TOPSHAM — A $36.2 million spending plan for School Administrative District 75 drew support from nearly 70 voters who attended an hour-long district budget meeting May 22.

The budget now goes to a validation referendum on June 10.

The proposed fiscal 2015 budget is up 4.4 percent from this year. If the plan is approved next month, taxpayers in SAD 75’s four towns will pay $21.4 million, a hike of 9.4 percent.

Topsham’s share would be $8.6 million, an increase of 8.63 percent; Harpswell, $7.6 million, up 10.11 percent; Bowdoin, $2.6 million, up 11.28 percent, and Bowdoinham, $2.7 million, up 7.9 percent.

The budget suspends a reliance on the SAD 75 fund balance, which the district has used to preserve positions and programs, and to try to keep the local contribution constant. But the use of those funds also pushed the balance too low, SAD 75 Superintendent Brad Smith has said.

While the fiscal 2014 budget used $928,000 from the fund balance, next year’s spending plan proposes the use of none. That requires the lost revenue to be made up in the local contribution.

“A big piece of the cost to taxpayers in this budget is the nearly $1 million loss of fund balance,” Harpswell Selectman Elinor Multer told school district leaders. “I am not claiming that it is unjustified; I think it certainly is.”

But, she added, “this did not come out of the blue. Some of the budget increase did; some was unpredictable. But not this one. And I think that as a whole, the district board and administration failed to look over the hill when they were allocating fund balance in prior years.

“We make an effort in Harpswell to do exactly that,” Multer said, “because if the increases have to come, we would much prefer that they come in smaller bites.”

Helping to offset the tax burden is $14.6 million the district expects to receive in state subsidy, a nearly 5 percent increase.

Budget increases include $480,000 for contracted salary raises, $167,500 for facility projects, and an added expense of $364,000 for local students attending public charter schools, including Harpswell Coastal Academy.

Proposed spending also calls for a counselor/social worker at Harpswell Community School, at a cost of $12,000; a half-day of professional development for support staff, more than $12,000, and teacher/principal evaluation, including training, tools and materials, for $39,000.

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.