2018-04-12 / News

Councilors say school budget too high

Abigail Worthing
Staff Writer

SACO – In Saco, the department of education budget is the hot-button topic. At a budget workshop Monday, April 9, all city departments came forward to present budgets to the council, and while all fielded budgetary questions, Superintendent Dominic DePatsy came under fire for the proposed $39.4 million dollar education budget, a 10.69 percent increase from last year, or a $1.10 increase on the mil rate.

The proposed municipal budget at $28.7 million is a $2.1 million increase from the 2017-2018 budget, which would result in a 37 cent increase to the mil rate.

The meeting, however, began with discord over the start time. A cancellation of an executive session created an opportunity to begin the budget hearing earlier than the advertised 7:45 p.m. start time. Resident Barbara Colman said she believed it was excluding those without ability to live stream the meeting and prevented residents from participating in budget discussions.

Colman on Tuesday claimed it was a violation of Chapter 13, Subchapter 1 of the city charter, under Freedom of Access, as the start time of 7:45 p.m. had been published on the agenda released April 4, and confirmed on the city Facebook page at 2:15 p.m. the day of the meeting.

City Manager Kevin Sutherland, however, ruled at the meeting that the council was not in violation and could begin presentations, adding that the meeting was being recorded for public record.

Colman, along with Saco Citizens for Sensible Government, plan to draft a letter to the council to address this and other alleged violations to meeting procedures, which Colman said is an “ongoing problem.”

Municipal officials will present a preliminary combined budget May 7 and the final reading of it will be May 14. Residents will vote on the school budget June 12.

The student population in Saco is 1,766 children in kindergarten through eighth grade and 971 students at Thornton Academy. One of 18 school districts in York and Cumberland counties, Saco ranks 15th in terms of cost per student at $12,749. The district has 345 full- and part-time employees.

Of the proposed education budget, 60 percent of the requested funds, $23.5 million, accounts for instruction outside of special education, and is comprised of regular education salaries and benefits, Thornton Academy tuition, tuition to other school districts, books and supplies. Also factored in to the budget was a contractual 8 percent increase in the benefits packages for employees.

DePatsy spoke of the strategic plan for the school district, which includes maintaining staff and striving to have all students reading at grade level. According to the school district “report card,” 75 percent of students in Saco are reading at grade level, and 70 percent of students are performing at grade level in math.

Among the school board budget requests above directive, or additional requests over the base budget, is a $36,000 plan to implement iPads into second-grade classrooms ona1to1ratio,thefinalstepinthedistrict’stechnology initiative, and the implementation of pre-kindergarten.

The school board budget presentation was met with by far the most questions and statements from the council, questioning the lack of frugality in the school board and what could be done to tighten up the budget.

Ward 1 Councilor Marshall Archer said he couldn’t support the increase.

“I have no problem working with you, but I can’t present that to the taxpayer,” Archer said.

Ward 4 Councilor Lynn Copeland proposed “helping ourselves” and suggested relying on more Parent Teacher Organization volunteers. Copeland also requested more information and explanations from the school board, which lead to a motion from Mayor Marston Lovell to schedule a joint meeting between the school board and city council.

Other municipal departmental budgetary additions include the implementation of the $2,195 Nessus program for the information technology department, part of its network security plan. Also included in its requests is BlankIt, a computer program to be installed on laptops of all cruisers. The software will cause the vehicle’s computer screen to go blank when the officer is driving above a certain speed. This is a program already implemented at a state level, and will remove a level of distraction for officers. Licensing for BlankIt is $2,368.

The Fire Department has requested $60,000 “midlife rehab” maintenance to Fire Engine 3. The repairs to the 2007 Ferra engine could extend the life of the truck by 20 years, which would otherwise have a working life of 15 years. The parks and recreation budget includes a request to repair two local parks at a one time cost of $14,380 and an ongoing cost of $2,500, specifically the playgrounds at Hillview Heights and Ryan Farms, and will update slides and swings, as well as removing sand and adding wood chips to provide safer cushioning for children. The parks and recreation department will adjust its student to staff ratio from 4:1 to 8:1 to offset costs and accommodate the increased $10 per hour minimum wage.

Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at inthecourier.com.

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