News Feature

Originally published in The Weekly Packet, April 30, 2020
Sedgwick School Board unveils budget-cut plan

by Anne Berleant

Faced with the probability of less town money for education, school board members and Superintendent Chris Elkington honed in on a plan April 28 that would reduce the 2020-21 school budget to a near-zero increase for taxpayers.

With the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic expected to affect local property tax revenues this fall, Elkington and School Board Chairman Marti Brill began budget-cut discussions at a recent selectmen’s meeting. Two selectmen attended this week’s school board meeting to continue the conversation.

But without knowing the exact revenue loss the town—and other towns across the peninsula—face, there were no hard numbers selectmen could provide this early in the game.

“This is uncharted territory,” Selectman Michael Sheahan said, noting August, when property tax deadline nears, would be a better time to predict any shortfall.

But to prepare for what the new school year would look like with less funding, the board took a proactive stance, presenting a plan that would reduce the budget by about $83,000.

Voters had approved a $126,607 increase in March for a projected $2,715,000 budget, that Elkington said represented a 3.7 percent increase for taxpayers.

The new adjustment comes from a 12 percent higher-than-projected state subsidy; moving four 2020-21 pre-K students into the kindergarten class, relieving the need for a Pre-K ed. tech., $9,000 less in salary for a replacement teacher position; cutting $2,000 for an architectural study of the building, and a $4,500 error found in the approved budget.

A special (virtual) board meeting will be held May 11 at 4:30 p.m. to approve the budget changes, with a likely July special town meeting for town approval.

“Throw away what school looks like”

It seems probable that students will return to a brick-and-mortar school house in the fall, based on Governor Janet Mills public address April 28. But the school environment will be much changed, Elkington said.

“Throw away what social studies looks like. Throw away what school looks like,” he said.

Some students continuing with virtual learning because parents are reluctant to send them back to school while others in school wearing masks and practicing social distancing was one scenario he presented.

However the next school year shapes up, new classroom configurations have single-grade classrooms except for a combined second and third grade class—“They get along really well and the learning is good,” said Principal Carla Magoon—and a multigrade sixth through eighth grade classroom with two teachers.

Thousands donated for meals

To help provide lunches to students during remote learning in April, many hands pitched in, Magoon noted in her report to the board, including a Boulder, Co. friend of cook Rose Kane, who donated “a tremendous gift” of $5,000. Local nonprofit Community Compass donated $1,000, St. Brendan’s Church gave $4,500, TradeWinds donated $500, and the Bucksport and Ellsworth Hannafords each donated $200.

Leftover funds will be used “to do things for the kids of Sedgwick,” Brill said.