SAD 75 shaves potential tax hike to 8.3%

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TOPSHAM — School Administrative District 75 reduced its proposed budget for next year by about $400,000, and may present a $38.1 million spending plan to voters next month.

Health insurance had been projected to increase about $183,000, but will actually decrease by about $66,000, resulting in a net reduction of about $250,000, according to the district. A 25 percent budgeted increase in workers compensation has also been whittled to 8.7 percent, saving SAD 75 $80,000.

The budget, to be voted on May 7 by the School Board, reflects an increase of 5.2 percent over current spending. Total taxes among SAD 75’s four towns would rise $1.8 million, or 8.3 percent.

The hike would mean a $149 annual school tax increase on a typical $182,500 home, according to the district. Harpswell would see a $131 increase on a $425,000 home, while Bowdoin and Bowdoinham would experience respective hikes of $192 and $165 on a $178,000 home.

Requested budget additions of $1.3 million include $144,000 for four special educational technicians, $139,000 for food service, and $200,000 in architect fees as SAD 75 studies whether to renovate or replace Mt. Ararat High School.

If a high school project referendum passes, the architect’s fees would be reimbursed by the state, Superintendent Brad Smith has said.

While the number of special education students has dropped, those youths’ needs are becoming more complex, he also noted. Out-of-district placements have increased, also raising costs – from about $42,000 in 2010 to $318,000 this year.

Charter school funding is another major budget factor.

Under state law, students who live in SAD 75 towns and attend charter schools are reported to be attending SAD 75 schools, so the district receives subsidies for those students, according to Smith. The district in turn pays a quarterly amount to the various charter schools; that amount is about $801,000 this year, for 74 students.

The district is planning for a $401,000 increase next year, or a total of $1.2 million to cover another 35 students.

Another significant spending hike is a rise in what the state requires school districts to raise in order to be eligible for subsidy. That rate increase, from $8.10 per $1,000 of property valuation, to $8.48, adds almost $482,000 to what SAD 75 must raise.

While the fiscal 2014 budget used $928,000 from the fund balance, this year’s spending plan uses none, and neither would next year’s.

While the fund balance had been used as a revenue source for at least six years to preserve positions and programs and keep the local contribution level down, it also reduced the balance too much, the superintendent has said.

The budget goes to a district budget meeting May 21, and a budget validation referendum June 9.

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.