Third try at SAD 51 budget brings 0% increase

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Deans, school cop in jeopardy; pay-to-play likely

CUMBERLAND — School Administrative District 51 officials presented a flat budget to a public hearing Tuesday, down from the 2.56 percent increase detailed last week.

The 2.56 percent increase was down from an initial 2.98 percent increase proposed last month. The newest budget is $700,000 less than the one previously proposed, for a total budget of $28 million.

Under the previously proposed budget, North Yarmouth would have seen a 12.2 percent tax increase, or $1.32 per $1,000 of assessed value, because of the school budget. The new budget reduces that increase to 8.2 percent, or 92 cents.

Cumberland was previously looking at a 6.8 percent, or 95-cent, increase to the mil rate. The new budget brings that down to 3.4 percent, or 47 cents.

The disproportionate increases are due to the state funding formula, which is based on state equalized valuations. North Yarmouth’s valuation increased 13 percent in 2008, while Cumberland’s increased about 6 percent.

Though appreciative of the hard work to whittle the budget down, many citizens and some School Board members were not as supportive of the specific cuts suggested, which include cutting the deans of students at both the middle and high school, as well as cutting the school resource officer (a police officer) at the high school.

By cutting both high school positions, “we’d be giving up a level of personal attention and support,” high school Principal Chris Mosca said. “I would expect a negative impact.”

“Yes, we can run a school without a dean,” he added, but “without a dean and the SRO, it would be difficult of ensure safety and well-being within the school.”

Middle school Principal Kim Brandt agreed that her dean of students is integral in helping students – especially those not otherwise finding success – form relationships, feel safe, and succeed in the classroom.

Most of the residents who spoke Tuesday agreed that cutting all three positions is not ideal, and comes too close to the students.

Other cuts that received public comment included getting rid of two teacher leader positions and cutting some stipends, which fund extra school programs put on by teachers, staff, or community members.

Two other teacher leader positions were shifted from taxpayers to federal stimulus grant funding, which was announced Tuesday morning. That grant funding will also allow the schools to put one sixth-grade teacher back into the budget. At the School Board meeting last week, a majority of public speakers suggested that class sizes for the incoming sixth grade are too large and putting one teacher back into the budget would solve that issue.

The district has already recieved more than $500,000 in federal stimulus funds, which offset a $350,000 curtailment ordered by the state last winter and will cause next year’s state subsidy to increase by $231,000. The schools are working with police to apply for another stimulus grant that would fund the school resource officer. That grant will be announced by July.

Also included in the latest budget are cuts to employee training, tuition reimbursement, library books, supplies and equipment. One further change, which will require a change of policy, calls for “pay-to-play” fees for athletics to fund $100,000 of that department. Details of those fees were not available, because a formal policy has not yet been discussed by the board.

Another measure to cut expenses, which faces a teacher union vote later this week, is one furlough day for all staff. The school board had asked Superintendent Robert Hasson to approach the union and other staff to ask about the possibility of reopening contracts to either cut next year’s wage increases or find other ways of keeping the budget down. Hasson had already been talking with the union about a furlough day, and will move forward with that proposal.

Schools are currently in session for one day more than required by the state. The furlough would cut that day – employees would not work, and would not be paid, which school officials estimated would save $80,000.

Hasson and other administrators will review all public comment and further adjust the budget for a final board budget meeting scheduled for April 27 at 7 p.m. in Town Hall. The board will vote that night to set a budget for public validation.

On May 21, the traditional public forum on the budget will take place, preparing residents for a May 26 budget referendum. The time and location of the May 21 meeting has not yet been posted.

Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or