Smaller Brunswick school budget increase still faces opposition

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BRUNSWICK — School Board members are pushing back after town councilors suggested the latest budget proposed by the School Department is still unacceptable.

The school budget proposed April 11 is $5 million lower than what officials previously presented to the Town Council. If approved, it would require a property tax rate increase of 3.6%, from $18.92 per $1,000 in valuation to $19.62.

But several councilors said it’s still too high, even compared to the 4.75% hike that was proposed April 4.

School officials, meanwhile, said going any lower would not meet the needs identified by school administrators. 

Budget deliberations were scheduled to continue April 18, after The Forecaster’s deadline, and after the council directed the School Board to present additional cuts based on a needs-based budget. 

The $40.3 million proposed spending plan is $2.25 million, or 5.9% higher than the current year’s $38 million budget, Business Manager Kelly Wentworth told the council April 11. 

The proposed municipal budget is $26 million, a $1.7 million increase from last year and would raise taxes 2.16%.

If both the proposed school and municipal budgets are approved, the total tax rate would increase 5.8% to $20.02 per $1,000 valuation, according to town Finance Director Julia Henze.

Major drivers of the school budget increase include $873,000 more in wages and benefits and an additional $587,000 needed for new positions. Cuts were made in part through reductions in health insurance, but more than $100,000 in grant funding was also lost. 

One of the new positions is an assistant principal at the Coffin School who will eventually work at the new Kate  Furbish School in 2020. A salary of about $136,500 has been budgeted for the position. 

Additional budget increases are due to special education needs and transportation needs that have been put off for “several years,” Wentworth said. Services for more than 90 homeless students also need to be funded. Wentworth said many school administrators have noticed an increased need for social-emotional support for students. 

Despite cuts made from the original budget proposal, some councilors voiced strong opposition at the most recent meeting. 

“I’m not going to vote for anything that takes the whole budget over 3 (or) 3.5%,” Town Councilor Kathy Wilson said after the presentation. “I represent the whole town, not just parents and kids. … I understand the dilemma but it’s not like we have crappy schools and a crappy system.”

Councilor David Watson said  “even at 3% it’s difficult.”

“I think we need to judge our budget on what we can afford,” Watson said. “From the town side, we have tremendous needs, especially in the area of public safety.”

Town Manager John Eldridge’s proposed budget includes four first responders to be added to the Fire Department. 

School Board Vice Chairman Ben Tucker said a budget any lower than the latest proposal leaves the School Department in a spot that “he doesn’t want the School Department to be in.”

“If we go below the budget we are presenting, we are talking about an absolute minimum to meet state mandates,” Tucker said.

The proposed budget “does not meet the needs our principals identified to us,” he said, adding the board wanted to “bring (the council) something that we’re comfortable proposing” and that “prevents us from going backward” when compared to other districts.

Another budget workshop is planned for April 25, and a public hearing on the combined spending plan will be held May 2. The full budget will be considered for adoption by the Town Council on May 13.

Watson said as it stands, the effect of the proposed total tax increase will be “detrimental” to residents.

“We need to think what the citizens of Brunswick can endure,” he said. “Residents are already moving out because of the taxes.” 

Patti McDonald can be reached at 780-9123 or pmcdonald@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @pmcdonaldme.

Brunswick School Board Vice Chairman Ben Tucker, left, with Superintendent Paul Perzanoski at a meeting in March. 

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