SAD 75 budget raises taxes, eliminates school jobs

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TOPSHAM — Approximately two dozen jobs are at risk in a $33.4 million budget approved by the School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors.

The board voted 11-1 on April 26 for the proposed fiscal 2013 budget.

A public hearing will be held at Mt. Ararat High School at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 10, followed by two public votes: at a district budget meeting May 24 and the budget validation referendum June 12.

The spending plan is down $817,000, or 2.4 percent, from this year and could cost about 24 jobs.

The amount to be assessed through taxes would be $18.8 million, an increase of about $98,000, or 0.5 percent. It is SAD 75’s first tax hike in four years, Business Manager Steve Dyer said last week.

He attributed the decline in next year’s budget to:

• A loss of nearly $357,000 in state aid, a 2.62 percent decrease.

• About $30,000 in lost federal impact aid the district received for military families, caused by the closure last year of Brunswick Naval Air Station.

• Nearly $403,000 from the federal Education Jobs Fund program that is no longer available.

• And $200,000 less to be used from the district’s fund balance to offset losses.

“This is the fourth year in a row that MSAD 75 is challenged by both a reduction in revenues and declining enrollment,” Superintendent Brad Smith said in an e-mail Tuesday. “At the same time, our district, just like our families, face rising costs. Consequently, reductions in staff are necessary. Nearly 80 percent of a school district budget is in personnel, and that is where reductions are felt the most.”

He noted that the district will see fewer teachers in kindergarten to 12th-grade classrooms, and that there will be reductions in physical education and art.
 
“Those children who receive special education will have fewer teachers and ed techs available to support them,” he explained. “There are reductions in other support areas as well, including nursing services, transportation, custodial, athletics and administration. All of this requires those of us who remain to do extend ourselves even more, doing a better job with fewer resources. MSAD 75 staff have always responded to challenges, and we will do so again.”

SAD 75’s four communities would see varying tax impacts. Topsham’s assessment would decrease 3.6 percent to $7.5 million, due to a drop in its state valuation.

The other three towns would see increased assessments: Harpswell, 2.31 percent to $6.6 million; Bowdoin, nearly 6 percent to $2.2 million, and Bowdoinham, 4.45 percent to $2.4 million.

Among increased expenses are $400,000 more for negotiated salaries, about $240,000 for health insurance, and about $80,000 more for fuel and heating costs.

Twelve teaching positions could be cut at the elementary level, Mt. Ararat Middle School and Mt. Ararat High School, along with a high school administrator.

Eleven support staff positions could also be eliminated, while the hours of 22 could be reduced. Those positions include educational technicians, secretaries, bus drivers, a custodian and an assistant football coach.

The School Board took two votes on the budget.

The first, which resulted in a 7-4 decision, was to close warrant articles at the May 24 district budget meeting. Closing them allows recommended budget numbers to only be decreased, while having them open would allow for increases or decreases.

Chairwoman Kimberly Totten, Vice Chairwoman Joanne Rogers, Linda Hall, James Conners, Holly Kopp, Scott McKernan and Jeffrey Wolkens voted in favor, while Jane Meisenbach, Kay Ogrodnik, Dorothy Gardner and Jane Scease voted in opposition.

Laurel Lopez abstained, and Gwendolyn Thomas and Rebekah Stimpson were absent.

Scease, the only School Board member present to vote against the budget, said last week that “I felt that we had made so many cuts in the past couple of years, that these were just too many, that it was just too much to cut. And I thought, especially without having … the warrant articles open … that if people in the community would have wanted to increase the budget, they would not now have an opportunity to do that.”

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.