Yarmouth considers 4% school budget increase

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YARMOUTH — The School Committee proposed a fiscal year 2019 budget of almost $25 million, an increase of approximately 4 percent over current spending.

The committee adopted its annual spending plan March 12 and presented it to the council March 15. The town will hold two public hearings on the budget April 5 and May 3, before it goes to referendum June 12.

Also on March 15, the Town Council established advisory committees to work on plans for three bridge improvement projects, allocated funds to study an LED streetlight conversion, and delayed endorsing a “Solarize 2.0” program.

Early state subsidy projections show Yarmouth schools losing over $489,000 from this year to next – about a 10 percent decline, from about $4.6 million to $4.1 million.

That will be offset in part because the state changed how it is funding vocational education: The district will no longer be paying tuition for local students to attend Portland Arts and Technology High School. As a result, Superintendent Andrew Dolloff’s budget proposal includes an 83.5 percent reduction in local Career and Technical Education funding of $108,000.

“That school, and all CTE centers, will now be funded directly from the state, rather than having local schools serve as a flow-through for funding,” Dolloff wrote.

The majority of the budget is dedicated to “Priority I”, or “level services,” which allows the district to maintain its current level of services provided to a growing enrollment, which requires around $809,000 more than fiscal 2018.

A recent study showed projected enrollment of more than 1,950 in 2027, with an increase of more than 70 students for fiscal 2019.

“By comparison, were we to adopt a ‘roll-forward’ budget, in which we simply carry forward from FY18 to FY19 the numbers and types of employees and materials in our current programming, we would experience an increase of approximately 2.7 percent,” Dolloff wrote. “Such a budget would not allow for enrollment increases, demographic changes, or strategic initiatives.”

Drivers behind the annual increase in expenditures include negotiated employee salaries and benefits, increased staffing required to meet enrollment growth, anticipated increases in operational costs, updates to curriculum and technology, and a loss of state funding for professional development.

The district received approximately $17,000 in state funding for professional development over each of the past three years.

“Beginning in FY18, those funds were removed from the state budget, resulting in a $17,506 decrease in professional development funding at a time when we are already struggling to provide teachers and leaders with opportunities for improvement,” Dolloff wrote.

Another nearly $69,000 of the budget is attributed to changing demands – what Dolloff calls “Priority II.”

That cost includes expanding a part-time English Language Learner teacher to full time, adding a part-time K-12 ELL education technician, expanding a part-time K-4 social worker to full-time, adding a Pep Band instructor at the high school, and budgeting a stipend of around $1,000 for a student mental health coordinator at Harrison Middle School.

Strategic planning, or “Priority III,” accounts for the budgets remaining $54,000 and reflects costs of the district’s five-year strategic plan adopted by the School Committee in fall 2015.

The district is also considering an expansion and renovation of all four district schools, which could cost $32 million. The proposal may go to referendum in November. If so, Dolloff said, the projected cost wouldn’t be factored into the budget until the 2019-20 school year.

Solarize 2.0

With three councilors absent, including Chairwoman Pat Thompson, the council voted 4-0 to delay action on a revised solarize program. “Solarize 2.0” – which would select multiple installers to participate in the program, as opposed to just one – will be taken up for discussion during an April 5 workshop to be put to a vote on April 19.

Vice Chairman Rob Waeldner said he would like the council to revisit the language of the motion to endorse such a program before voting, which they intended to do at a snowed-out Operations Committee meeting last week.

He added that after an April 1 workshop Thompson received emails from residents who felt the council needed to give the public more time for input after Thompson forgot to open the floor to public comment on the item.

Councilors David Craig and April Humphrey were ready to vote on the program on Thursday, but had the vote to endorse the program received fewer than four votes, it would have failed altogether.

“If an error was made by the chair to not open it up for public comment, that’s regrettable,” Craig said. “… We haven’t heard much from the public on this. It’s kind of an administrative mistake and yet we’re going to push it off another month because of that … (but) if the only way to see this pass is to push it out another month, I guess we can (do that).”

Bridge committees

Three citizen advisory committees were also established to work with MDOT on planned work to the Cousins Island bridge, Bayview Street overpass, and the Exit 15 overpass.

Each committee will work on bridge designs, schedules, and other issues, such as pedestrian and cyclist accessibility.

Sue Ellen Bordwell, Ed Ashley and Tess Piker will work with three Freeport residents on the Cousins River bridge design. Jeff Darrell, Todd Patstone, Maryann Vitalius, Binks Colby George, Richard Leslie and Ross Babcock were appointed to the Bayview Street Overpass Advisory Committee.

So far, only two residents, Dan Ostrye and Nancy Martin, have volunteered to assist with plans for the Exit 15 overpass, but the town will continue to solicit volunteers with the hope of having at least five on each committee.

LED lights

The council unanimously approved the appropriation of $26,000 from the town’s surplus fund to task RealTerm Energy with completing an audit of the town’s lighting system and develop a project proposal and cost estimates of converting all streetlight to LED fixtures.

The town now contracts with Central Maine Power to provide lighting for 600 fixtures throughout town, which costs about $100,000 each year. Town staff estimate that buying the fixtures and converting to LEDs would cost about $351,000, but the town could save 60 percent annually, or about $63,000, on lighting costs, so it would take five to six years to recoup the cost of installation.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.