In a new two-part process, district residents of School Administrative District 61 will have the opportunity to alter the proposed $25.2 million 2008-09 budget Thursday, May 15, before a vote the following Tuesday.

District voters will set budget amounts at a town meeting-style session held in the Lake Region High School Gymnasium at 6:30 p.m. On Tuesday, May 20, district residents will vote in a referendum to approve or deny the budget set at the May 15 meeting.

The total proposed school budget is a drop from the current year’s budget of $26 million. The state’s contribution to the district also dropped, from $5.5 million to $3.1 million. “My biggest concern for this district is the real lack of funding from the state,” said Donna Norton, chairwoman of the finance committee of the school board. “It’s just kind of devastating for the community.”

The amount Casco residents contribute to the budget will decrease by less than 1 percent from the current fiscal year. Naples residents will contribute 2.7 percent more, Sebago residents will contribute 4.8 percent more, and Bridgton residents will contribute 8 percent more. The percentage share of each town depends on the state property valuation. Naples and Sebago officials plan to offset school share increases with decreases in town budgets.

The new two-part system for determining the school budget is a part of the Reorganization Law passed by the Maine Legislature in June 2007. While the Maine Department of Education, which administers the law, approved the SAD 61 plan to remain an independent district despite not having 2,500 students, the voting process must be followed by all districts.

The purpose is to create transparency in the budget process, said David Connerty-Marin, director of communications for the Department of Education. “It forces the administration to present the case for the budget and get buy-in from the voters,” added Connerty-Marin.

“I think there is always a danger that if not enough people show up to the initial meeting then large amounts of money may essentially be controlled by small amounts of people,” said SAD 61 School Board member Glen Niemy of Bridgton. Niemy also worries about the short turnaround time between meeting and referendum, worrying that residents may not have time to learn about changes made.

The proposed budget cuts nine teachers district-wide, five at the elementary level and four in special education. The cuts include reduced hours for physical, social, and speech therapists. One bus purchase and perhaps two bus routes would also be cut as well as $225,000 worth of funds for maintenance projects and funds for debt service.

The school board is also in the process of closing the Casco Memorial School, which is currently used for special education administration and a day treatment program for eight to 10 students.

Before the school closes, Department of Education and Casco voters must approve the plan. When the school closes, the district plans to move students and staff into the Lakes Region Middle School and Crooked River Elementary School. The school board is assessing other possible school closures.

Medicaid funding to the district might also be cut. Norton expects to find out about these potential cuts at the end of this fiscal year.

“This was the most unpleasant year to have to deal with all this,” Niemy said. “We take the hardest hit of any district of the state. There’s no fat to cut anymore. We cut our fat years ago.”


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