'Significant hurdles' for Brunswick school budget

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BRUNSWICK — School Board members and the public got their first glimpse of next year’s proposed school budget on Wednesday night.

While what they saw wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t nearly as bad as what was expected.

The School Department will receive nearly $806,000 less from the state next year – significantly less than the $1.4 million shortfall that was projected earlier.

“It’s a heck of a lot better than what we were expecting,” Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said.

But Perzanoski admitted there are “significant hurdles this year in building our budget.”

One of those is the overall deficit. A $1.7 million decline in revenue from grants and federal money, the drop in state funds, and leftover debt from construction of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School leaves the town with a more than $3.84 million deficit at the beginning of budget season.

That figure does not include employee salaries or any health benefit increases, which have not yet been negotiated with the Brunswick Education Association for the 2011-2012 school year.

Perzanoski said the district could eliminate all but $300,000 of the known deficit by applying unused funds from a budget carry-over fund. Since the district implemented a spending freeze in October 2008, it has managed to conserve more than $4.2 million, $3.5 million of which could be applied to next year’s school budget.

He also recommended the School Board consider eliminating some positions after current employees retire. The department has cut 38 positions, including 11 full-time teachers and 10 full-time education technicians, since the 2009-2010 school year.

While a final spending plan has not been determined, Assistant Superintendent Gregory Bartlett said he expected “minimal increases” from this year’s budget of $33.3 million.

Proposed increases highlighted at the meeting include a higher salary for the new curriculum coordinator and, due to higher gas prices, a larger transportation budget for special needs students who attend out-of-district programs.

Another significant expense could be the creation of public pre-school for all 4-year-olds, a program that has been proposed in the past, but never implemented. Paul Austin, director of student services, estimated such a program would cost the school district nearly $266,000 if it were available to all 4-year-olds in Brunswick, plus the cost of busing students.

He said that while the up-front cost is high, the program could make back the expense in a couple of years thanks to per-pupil reimbursement from the state.

School Board members peppered Austin with questions about the program, wondering if it had to be available to all 4-year-olds, or could be more exclusive. Austin said the town could run a smaller pilot program and then expand the pre-school to all eligible children if the board wants to.

Board member Janet Connors proposed holding a separate workshop on the pre-school program, something that other board members agreed is a good idea.

Perzanoski closed the meeting by encouraging board members to consider public pre-school.

“Research is very clear on the benefits (of pre-school) to kids throughout their schooling,” he said. “You couldn’t get a better bang for your buck anywhere.”

The school board will hold another budget workshop on March 2. The board is scheduled to vote on the budget on April 13.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net

This story was edited on Feb. 18 to correct for an incorrect reference to day care.

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