2018-03-22 / News

Saco School Board considers budget additions

By Abigail Worthing Staff Writer

SACO – The Saco School Board is still working out the budget for fiscal year 2018-2019, but at a recent workshop, the board discussed at length a list of $1.3 million worth of educator-requested additions to add to the current $38.4 million budget.

The list is comprised of additions to the budget that Saco educators believe will strengthen the school district. However, the proposed budget, without additions, is set to increase the mil rate by 56 cents without considering the rest of the municipal budget.

The fiscal year 2017-2018 school budget was $36.2 million; the mil rate for that fiscal year was $19.38 per $1,000 valuation. Without the requested $1.3 million in additions for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, the current base budget for the school board is $38.4 million, a $2.2 million increase from the previous budget, which would result in a 56 cent increase on the mil rate, bringing it to $19.94 per $1,000 of valuation. The current median value for a home in Saco is $255,500, a 12.6 percent increase in value over the last year. With the proposed budget increase, the property tax on a median home would increase from $4,951.59 to $5,094.67, a $143.08 increase, not including the $1.3 of additional requests.

Among these proposed additions is the of hiring both math and literacy interventionists to catch up students who have fallen behind. According to Ward 1 board member Garrett Abrahamson, the school district currently offers three days of literacy instead of five, and only 70 percent of students are testing at literacy proficiency at Young School.

“That’s 30 percent not at literacy proficiency. We need to catch these kids up,” Abrahamson said. “This money is for people who are going to help students.”

School Board Chairman Michael Ohayon said he was concerned over the large number of requested additions the board was considering to put forward to the city council, reminding the board that this was the largest suggested increase to the budget in his tenure on the school board “by double.” Ohayon served on the board from 2003 to 2009, and has been a board member since 2013.

Ward 4 board member Steve Shiman said while he wants to make sure he has all available information to ensure he can defend the budget, he also wants Saco to be the best school district in Maine.

“We’re not doing this to increase taxes,” Shiman said. “We’re doing this for the school system. Our job is to promote education.”

The most heavily discussed item at the March 15 meeting was the implementation of a pre-kindergarten program. One plan is the more conservative of two options, with a 32-student cap, one classroom and no additional administration. It would include the hiring of one teacher and one ed tech, with 16 students per half day. The second option is the more inclusive of the two, extending the program to 64 students with two teachers and two ed techs. There are currently 36 families who have expressed interest in a pre-kindergarten program.

With both Kennebunk and Biddeford now offering prekindergarten, many board members felt this was essential to the community, adding that it has been a proposed addition under consideration by the school board for three years.

“Fear to fail is not a good enough reason not to do it,” Shiman said. “Every year we find a reason to not move forward with education. We have to take a chance.”

Adding pre-kindergarten to the budget would be an increase of $287,000, with an additional $40,000 for transportation.

The requested budget additions range from technological advances to school maintenance and additional teaching positions. Among the additions is a request for $36,500 to provide iPads in a 1-1 ratio for the second grade, an addition that would complete the final phase to implement iPads for kindergarten through second-grade students. Also included is $80,000 to upgrade the transportation fleet in Saco, allowing the district to purchase five buses and three vans. There is also a request for $336,330 formaintenance and construction issues at the schools that include spending $8,000 to replace carpeting at CK Burns and $5,000 to repair the roof at Fairfield School. Among additional position requests is $70,000 for a reading interventionist at Young School to provide support for the literacy team and $35,000 for a certified full-time librarian at CK Burns.

City Administrator Kevin Sutherland was at the meeting and was called upon to answer questions by the school board. When questioned about whether to put forward the full list of additions for the city council’s consideration, Sutherland encouraged the board to put forward the list to give the public an opportunity to discuss it. Sutherland also took a moment to assert that while the city council and school board are separate entities, they are not in opposition.

“We are one community between school and city,” Sutherland said.

The budget will first be presented to the city council at a March 19 meeting, and will be voted on Wednesday, March 21, after Courier deadline.

Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at news@inthecourier.com.

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