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by Anne Berleant
With the motion on the table and no discussion, five hands raised to approve a $2,256,395 budget for 2013-14 at the March 7 school board meeting. That number is down $48,624 or 2.1 percent from this year’s budget, despite notable increases in special education salary and transportation costs. Lower high school tuition costs account for the overall budget decrease.
Members had exhausted budget discussions through four previous drafts, and by the end of their previous meeting on February 25, a majority was ready to approve. However, Chairman Hal Casey delayed the vote to allow member Pat Hollenberg more time to review the numbers and budget process. Laura Pellerano, who had then told board members she could not approve the budget as presented, cast her vote to pass it with no comment.
This is the second consecutive year that the school budget has gone down, although last year the board achieved the decrease through cost-cutting across the board.
This is also the second year that the board voted down a pre-K proposal. Last year the board was not convinced of its merits as presented, and this year the projected enrollment numbers were too low to justify the expense, but members said they would reconsider it for 2014-15.
Selectmen Steve Bemiss and Bill Matlock attended the meeting to find out how much the town needed to raise from taxation for the 2013-14 budget, but Superintendent Mark Hurvitt said that until the board had voted, the budget wasn’t set. One certainty is that $350,000 of “carry forward” money, or unspent funds accrued from past years, will be used toward next year’s budget.
Most of the board’s meeting was spent discussing school security, or specifically the level of board involvement in recommending and devising an emergency crisis plan. Some board members thought the school safety committee would, and should, make specific recommendations to the board.
Committee member Marlene Tallent disagreed, stating its role is to monitor the plan.
She recommended, per Maine School Board Association (of which she is vice-president), a round table public forum to address and hear community concerns on school safety and crisis management.
Sergeant Greg Roy of the Maine State Police has reviewed and made crisis plan recommendations, but after speaking with other safety professionals, Tallent said that Roy’s plan “is not the end of the line.”
Hurvitt said that he, Union 93 school principals and law enforcement are working on a plan to present for board approval.
“Right now we have a wide open campus,” Pellerano said. “We need to step up to the plate.”
Board members said they will review new information at the April 2 board meeting and “move forward.”
In other business, board members unanimously approved a new seventh-grade Life Science curriculum and Rick Parker’s appointment as softball coach for 2012-13.