Superintendent's Notebook: Support your local school budget

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Investment in education is critical to improving life in Maine and throughout the country. One integral component in educating our children is the yearly task of passing school budgets.

Districts in Maine are experiencing challenging budget times as the governor’s proposed budget cuts General Purpose Aid by $9.5 million, while simultaneously increasing local educational costs in such areas as teacher retirement costs (up by $7 million) and special education (up by $17 million).

This comes at a time when the state is still not funding 55 percent of the cost of education, which was a mandate passed by voters in a referendum more than a decade ago. This continued shrinking state aid requires districts to carefully and thoughtfully prioritize needs, and pass budgets that will result in stronger outcomes for our students.

In Regional School Unit 5 we are targeted to receive $212,000 less in state subsidy next year. The Board of Directors has recently adopted a budget that is deemed to be fiscally responsible and will continue to improve student outcomes.

The first budget priority for RSU5 is to increase learning for our youngest students. The budget includes a half-time kindergarten position at Pownal Elementary School to extend the program from half-day to full-day. Currently only 3 percent of schools statewide still have half-day kindergarten programs.

Additionally, the budget allows Morse Street School to offer an additional session of pre-K, bringing RSU5 a step closer to offering universal pre-K in all three towns. Research shows that students who attend pre-K have higher academic achievement, are more likely to attend college, and earn higher incomes.

The second budget priority is to provide essential support for students. Morse Street School is requesting a teacher to boost students struggling in reading and math; Durham Community School is requesting an educational technician to support students struggling in behavior; Freeport High School is requesting a quarter-time teacher to provide literacy support to targeted students, and Durham and Freeport Middle Schools are requesting a shared math teacher to provide differentiation for our strongest math students.

Research shows that students with more math preparation have higher earning power, and are more likely to enroll in and finish college. The requested support positions will assist our students in realizing their potential and increase student outcomes.

The estimated population of Maine was nearly 1.33 million in July 2015, or about 900 people less than the prior year, according to the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau. It is critical for Maine people and government to focus on ways to grow our population.

One facet of the solution is to provide a quality education for our children. Parents who have the option of living anywhere focus on high-performing schools when deciding where to raise their families. Maine is recognized for higher achievement and lower per-pupil costs than other states. Every child deserves a good education. It requires that all levels – federal, state, and local – play a constructive role in providing financial support, resulting in a well-educated citizenry.

Supporting your local budget is one way for each of us to make a difference in the lives of many.

Becky Foley is superintendent of schools in Regional School Unit 5 (Freeport-Durham-Pownal). She can be reached at [email protected]