SAD 75 tax bite could rise 10% under new budget

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TOPSHAM — The latest draft of the School Administrative District 75 budget for fiscal year 2016 would raise taxes 10.1 percent.

The $38.5 million spending plan, which goes to two public votes in May and June, is being presented in three hearings. The first two were held in Harpswell and Topsham on March 23 and 24, and the final will take place at Bowdoinham Community School at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 31.

The budget as currently proposed would increase 6.3 percent from this year. Expenses would be primarily offset by an anticipated $14.7 million in state subsidy – up 1.1 percent from fiscal 2015 – leaving $23.6 million to come from SAD 75’s four towns, an increase of 10.1 percent.

Topsham’s assessment could be $9.5 million, up 10.5 percent; Harpswell’s, $8.3 million, up 9.2 percent; Bowdoin’s, $2.9 million, up 11.4 percent, and Bowdoinham’s, $2.9 million, up 9.9 percent.

Salaries and wages comprise 58 percent of SAD 75’s current budget, followed by health and dental insurance at 16 percent, and contracted services at 8 percent.

The spending plan is mostly composed of what the district calls a “maintenance of effort” budget, which maintains all employees and programs, Superintendent Brad Smith said. Increases of about $955,000 built into that budget include nearly $425,000 for salaries, about $183,000 for health and dental costs, and nearly $180,000 for utilities like phone, electricity and natural gas.

On top of the maintenance budget are $1.3 million in requested additions, Smith said. They include about $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, Smith said, the architect’s fees would be reimbursed by the state.

While the number of special education students has decreased, those youths’ needs are becoming more complex, the superintendent said. He noted that 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 significant budget factor. Under state law, Smith explained, 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. 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.

“While we get some of the revenue for those kids flowing to us from the state, we also have to put that in as an expenditure,” Smith said, calling it a net loss for the district.

Another major cost hike is an increase in what the state requires school districts to raise in order to be eligible for subsidy, Smith said. 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 does next year’s.

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, but it also reduced the balance too much, Smith said.

The School Board is scheduled to vote May 7 on the budget. The spending plan then goes to a district budget meeting on May 21, and a budget validation referendum on June 9.

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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.