2016-03-03 / Front Page

Saco to use saved funds for security equipment

By Ben Meiklejohn Staff Writer

SACO – The Saco School Department may get $175,000 to help the district upgrade its facilities with newer technology, cameras and security equipment. The money is expected to be transferred from the city's capital line to the school department's contingency fund.

“These are things we need that will update our facilities,” said Superintendent Dominic DePatsy. “We've presented it to the finance committee and they agreed. Our tech adviser will present it to the city council on March 14.”

City Administrator Kevin Sutherland said the $175,000 was already intended for use by the schools, but was placed in the city's capital line of the budget by last year's city council to protect the amount from being automatically absorbed as payment toward the school department's debt to the city for costs associated with Saco's withdrawal from Regional School Unit 23. According the School Finance Director, Jason DiDonato, the amount originally owed to the city for withdrawal costs, was $564,769. The school paid the city $125k in fiscal year 2015, and the remaining balance owed is $439,769. Sutherland said if the money had been in the school contingency line, and not spent by the end of the year, it would count as a reduction in the debt. Funds left in the capital line however, are allowed to be carried over into next year's budget.

“If it didn't get spent in contingency, it would get lost to the bottom line,” Sutherland said.

DePatsy said he was contacted by a city auditor who informed him that the money should be returned to the school contingency line for use by the schools. Sutherland said the school department has enough needs to justify moving the money back into their contingency fund so it can be used, and he didn't believe DePatsy was aware that the schools had this money available because it was sitting in a city budget line.

As of the Courier's deadline, the school board was scheduled to discuss the transfer at a workshop meeting, Wednesday, March 2.

DePatsy said budget constraints for the development of next year's budget are leading to hard choices for the Saco schools, including increasing class sizes and eliminating positions.

Proposed changes in class size include increasing class size for first-grade students from 15 to 18 students per teacher, fifth grade, from 18 to 20, and sixth grade from 17 to 19.

DePatsy said he is comfortable with the increases and doesn't think they will impact the students' education.

The proposed budget would also eliminate three teaching positions and one guidance counselor that DePatsy hopes could be achieved through anticipated retirements.

DePatsy said the state has so far only flat-funded the education budget at the same levels as last year. Saco's state aid allocation figures for the 2016-2017 fiscal year are expected to be $1.3 million less than this year's allocation.

The proposed budget for next year, which the school finance committee has forwarded to the school board, represents a .77 percent increase from this year's budget.

In a letter to school staff, dated Feb. 26, DePatsy wrote, “I can assure you that the scrutiny applied during this time has been intensive and extensive as we have tended to achieve a delicate balance of a sound educational program supported by a fiscally prudent budget. Public schools have been required, by federal and/or state, to provide services which schools had never been entrusted to do. We are charged to accommodate everyone’s needs in a conventional school program, as well as with the infrastructure. The reliance to fund public schools based on the property tax and whatever may or may not be forthcoming from Legislature, as well as other (decreasing) or unfunded revenue generators, is very difficult to plan for a sound educational budget.”

DePatsy said the Legislature is considering increasing the total education allocation by $23 million this week, and urged employees to contact their representatives and senators to advocate for support of the funding.

The proposed 2017 budget, which now belongs to the school board, said DePatsy, has already been reduced $1.4 million by the finance committee, from the budget proposal he originally submitted.

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