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by Anne Berleant
Board members met on February 25 to finalize the 2013-14 school budget, which at around $2,250,000, looks to come in $48,624 below this year’s number. A proposed pre-K program was stricken, due to a low response from parents, and $5,000 was added for school security.
Principal Cathy Lewis said four families had responded they would register children for pre-K. The target number for the program was a minimum of eight students.
“We don’t have the numbers to justify it,” said board member Don Driscoll.
The board will vote on the final version at its regular meeting next week although it could have passed 3-2 at the February 25 meeting. Chairman Hal Casey delayed making a motion to approve after Pat Hollenberg said she needed time to review how the budgeting process works before she could approve it.
Member Laura Pellerano said she also could not vote to approve the budget, both at the meeting and when presented next week.
“I don’t agree with the increase of two things,” Pellerano said. “Guidance and Title I. I don’t think we’re approaching it right.” She did not state what approaches she favored for those items.
For 2013-14, the guidance program has increased from one day to two, adding $7,437 to the budget. The total cost for the guidance program is $14,774 to pay for salaries and benefits, outside of a nominal amount for instructional material.
Title I is a federally mandated education act passed in 1965 to bridge any achievement gaps between economically disadvantaged and other students. Associated costs for student assessment and an RTI (Response to Intervention) teacher fall under elementary education. For 2013-2014, the RTI teacher salary is budgeted at $51,949, plus associated benefits, but the increased salary is offset by federal Title I grant funds of $12,987. Overall, the elementary education program has increased $25,087 or 5.8 percent, from the increased teacher salary line.
In 2012, Surry Elementary School was named a Distinguished Title I School for significantly narrowing achievement gaps between Title I and non-Title I student groups in one year.
Special education costs are projected to be high in 2013-14, with $405,055 budgeted to cover one elementary teacher and two ed. tech. salaries, two elementary tuitions to other schools and three secondary tuitions to other schools. This is a $52,573 increase from 2012-13. In addition, special education transportation costs add about another $20,000 to the transportation line.
“It’s hugely expensive,” said Union 93 Special Education Director Sheila Levine, who walked board members through those budget lines.
So, where are the savings? In secondary education, where costs are down $113,706 or 18.7 percent.
Both special and secondary education are costs that change from year to year, depending on the number of students and their needs, and cannot be controlled by the school board.
However, board members can control how much “carry forward” money—funds left over at the end of budget years that accrue in a reserve account—they will use toward the total budget, which means less to be raised through taxation.
With a balance of $832,000 carry forward funds as of June 30, 2012, board members decided to use $350,000 toward the 2013-14 budget, leaving an amount equal to over 20 percent of the proposed budget.
“What’s a comfortable carry forward?” asked Pellerano.
“Ten percent,” said Superintendent Mark Hurvitt.