South Portland School Board spikes plan for activity fees

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The School Board on Tuesday said it would not support a proposal to institute activity fees next year for students participating in athletics and co-curricular activities.

Board members also indicated they would like to stop talking about a budget proposal to flat-fund the schools – a directive imposed by the City Council, which sets the bottom line for school spending.

A proposal to eliminate seven custodial positions, however, received unanimous support from the board. The plan, which is said to have the support of custodians, is expected to save the district between $364,000 and $392,000 next year.

The board discussed the proposals at a budget workshop at Mahoney Middle School. No formal votes were taken, but board members clearly stated their positions on each proposal.

Instituting athletic fees would have generated about $128,000 in next year’s budget and moved the district toward creating a budget that would not increase property taxes.

Although students receiving free and reduced lunch would be exempt from paying the fees, board member Sarah Goldberg said she couldn’t support the plan.

“There are so many families who don’t fall in there and their kids go to school to play sports,” Goldberg said.

Since the activity fees are included in the superintendent’s budget proposal, board Chairman Ralph Baxter said the board would have to find a way to make up the difference.

Athletic Director Kevin Woodhouse outlined possible cuts, including eliminating seventh- and ninth-grade athletic teams, the high school ice hockey program and the full-time athletic trainer.

Woodhouse also proposed $25,600 cuts in cuts to band and other co-curricular activities.

But board members seemed more interested in closing that gap by raising the tax rate, rather than making additional cuts. Karen Callaghan said the cuts would put more pressure on booster clubs, which have already picked up more of funding burden in recent years.

“I think we need to find the money elsewhere,” Callaghan said.

The flat budget would eliminate a total of 21 positions.

In addition to the seven custodian jobs (six of which are vacant), proposed cuts include a high school attendance clerk, a part-time high school social studies teacher, two middle school library clerks, a guidance counselor/social worker, two middle school leadership stipends, elementary co-curricular stipends and high school stipends for debate, Key Club and the student newspaper.

Grant-funded positions proposed for elimination include a high school/middle school truancy ed tech, a preschool teacher and ed tech, four Title I academic support ed techs and two academic tutors.

The flat budget was one of three scenarios outlined last week by Superintendent Suzanne Godin.

Godin also presented a budget plan that would increase the schools’ share of property taxes by 2.5 percent, which would match the budget directive the City Council gave the city manager. And she presented a needs-based budget that would increase school spending by $1.4 million, although the board has not discussed that proposal.

The needs-based budget would increase the tax rate by 4.14 percent, adding about 42 cents to the mil rate of $15.70 per $1,000 of valuation, according to School Business Manager Rafe Forland.

Board members, however, seemed to be leaning more towards a budget that increases taxes by 2.5 percent, adding about 25 cents on the mil rate. 

The increase would restore athletic and co-curricular funding, most of the positions proposed for elimination and create a new position: a director of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. 

Board Vice Chairman Richard Carter said he would not support a flat school budget, especially when the city is planning on increasing its share of the tax rate by 2.5 percent.

“I have said it before and I will keep saying it until it becomes fact,” Carter said. “I will not support a budget that does not put the city side and the school side on the same level.”

Carter also suggested the board devote a future workshop to plan for any unexpected changes in state education subsidy.

Gov. Paul LePage’s budget indicates South Portland would receive more than $2.1 million from the state, which is about $475,000 more than originally anticipated. 

But Godin said that funding is tied to LePage’s plan to reform the state retirement system, which may not materialize.

School budgets workshops starting at 6:30 p.m. have been scheduled for Thursday, March 24, at Small Elementary School; Monday, March 28, at Skillin Elementary School and Wednesday, March 30, at Brown Elementary School.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or

Sidebar Elements

Proposed South Portland city budget up $844K

SOUTH PORTLAND — City Manager Jim Gailey on Monday presented a $28 million municipal budget to the City Council.

The proposal represents an increase of nearly $844,000 over current spending and would increase the municipal portion of the tax rate by 2.5 percent, adding 12 cents to the mil rate.

The council will hold a series of budget workshops over the next few weeks, before finalizing the budget. A public hearing on the city and school budgets has been scheduled for Wednesday, April 6, at City Hall.

Budget increases include $409,000 for salary and wages; nearly $217,000 for health insurance; $133,500 for Maine State Retirement; $109,600 for gas, oil and heating fuel; $85,300 for deferred compensation; $45,500 for vehicle supplies; $44,000 for maintenance and $15,900 for police cruisers.

The proposed budget also reflects a nearly $110,000 decrease in debt payments, and a $30,000 increase to establish a local property tax relief program.

It fully funds positions that were only partially funded last year, including a firefighter, police officer, an employee relations manager and a police detective.

Although the superintendent of schools has proposed a flat budget for the schools next year, an additional 20 cents is being proposed on the mil rate to fund the high school construction project.

The total operating budget, including school and county spending, proposed for fiscal 2012 would increase by $1.9 million, or 2.9 percent. That could increase the property tax rate by 2.1 percent, or 33 cents, to $16.03 per $1,000 of valuation.

The City Council has scheduled budget workshops starting at 5:15 p.m. for March 28 at the Community Center, April 7 at City Hall and April 11 at the Community Center. Additional workshops may be held on May 4 and May 9, if needed.

— Randy Billings