Uncertainty over state contribution clouds Brunswick school budget

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BRUNSWICK — The School Department is trying to develop a fiscal 2018 budget while facing an uncertain amount of state reimbursement.

Unsure of whether it will need to compensate for all of a potential $1.1 million shortage in state revenue, Superintendent of Schools Paul Perzanoski floated a tiered set of administrative costs Wednesday at a School Board public forum.

“This is a unique year,” Perzanoski said, explaining how he was forced to outline the suggested cuts without knowing what reductions will be necessary for the district to fund his proposed $38.8 million budget, a 3 percent increase over this year’s spending.

Under the governor’s proposed budget, Brunswick would be the third hardest-hit district in the state, losing $1.1 million in state revenue – a number that is likely to change after review by the state Legislature, but not before the town votes to accept its municipal budget June 13.

“We need to look in the vicinity of a $1 million reduction” in existing programming and administrative costs if the board wants to prevent the 2018 budget from increasing more than 3 percent, Perzanoski said.

“Normally, we cut to a number,” Vice Chairman Jim Grant said, calling attention to the difficulty of budgeting without precise input from the state.

Perzanoski drafted a budget that proposed two tiers of reductions, which, when combined, attempt to compensate for the anticipated maximum reduction.

A 3 percent tax increase would produce a 5.41 percent increase in the tax rate, which is now $29.35 per $1,000 of assessed value, based on department calculations.

The board, which will vote on its proposed budget Wednesday, April 12, unanimously accepted the first tier of Perzanoski’s reductions – totaling nearly $750,000 – and voted 9-3 to add the elimination of a part-time music teacher at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary into the first tier of cuts.

Few of the those cuts caused panic among board members; to make up the majority of the $750,000, the department would eliminate several faculty and staff positions where employees are already scheduled to retire.

The second round of cuts – totaling $355,000 – included more drastic proposals, and the board wanted more information about their implications before lending their endorsement.

The second-tier proposals would eliminate the curriculum coordinator positionk now filled by two part-time employees who are retiring; eliminate a learning specialist at the junior high school, and reduce the superintendent’s hours to four days a week.

Wednesday’s votes were not official authorization. Rather, they were intended to provide Perzanoski with guidance of the board’s current consensus as he prepared another draft for next Wednesday.

“We’re trying to make your universe of consideration smaller,” board member Sarah Singer said, later noting that Perzanoski’s job was “unprecedented” in prior years.

The board will also consult a lawyer as to whether it can “pre-appropriate” funds that it could stand to realize from the state after the town votes to accept the municipal budget.

“A budget like this is a prudent and cautious way to proceed, and we can do it preparing to adjust if we end up getting more money,” board member Ben Tucker said.

He wondered if it is legal for the board to provide taxpayers with an “earmarked” list of programs that would receive funding if the state passes a more generous budget after the June referendum.

Only Jean Powers, of Redwood Lane, spoke at Wednesday’s forum.

She expressed concerns about how that School Department’s spending – specifically, it’s administrative costs and salaries – would impact the town’s senior population.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Brunswick Superintendent Paul Perzanoski, center, at a School Budget forum April 5.

Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.