Every year during the spring an approved School Committee budget is presented to the Westbrook City Council for action to finalize the Westbrook School Department’s budget. This year in addition to this traditional process, the citizens of Westbrook will be provided an opportunity to vote on the school budget on June 10. This vote will only be on the school’s portion of the budget and not the municipal’s portion.

As any Westbrook citizen who follows the school’s budget process knows, the development of the school budget begins long before the City Council vote. The seven schools and various other departments deliberate and submit their budgets to the superintendent of schools and Central Office before the Christmas holidays. Once the budget is compiled, the superintendent and business manager review every line in the budget with the appropriate supervisor for accuracy and relevance, assuring that each request is necessary and appropriate. Since this has been the process for the last nine years, the principals and directors know to submit only the necessities for keeping the quality of education Westbrook citizens have been accustomed to expect. Our goal is to have as lean a budget as possible.

This year, in preparation for the budget, it was made clear to all school employees that we have to be particularly scrutinizing. Our goal was to bring in the budget as close to a 0 percent increase to taxpayers as possible. We are experiencing the same constraints that our taxpayers are facing: rising costs of food, oil and propane for our buildings, diesel fuel for our buses, electricity, liability, fire and health insurances, etc. I am always mindful of my awesome responsibility to present as frugal a budget to the citizens as possible. I take this financial stewardship very seriously. I pride myself in having the necessary skills and vision to look beyond the immediate present and see trends that may occur in the next several years. In other words, we have been preparing for this turndown in the economy.

Since our student population has been declining gradually these last several years, appropriate action has taken place on a yearly basis in two significant areas. As teachers and support staff have retired or left Westbrook, we have constantly assessed each position to determine if it is still necessary. Through the last few years dozens of positions have been eliminated. This has realized significant savings and has allowed us to place the necessary money into the classrooms to benefit the students. Another important step has been to combine and merge various departments with the city of Westbrook and surrounding schools. As you may be aware, the Westbrook schools have merged the technology, cable television, maintenance and custodial departments with the city. The school provides and manages these areas for the city, while the city provides the management of the Davan Pool, maintenance and care of the athletic fields, mowing of the lawns and fields, our school resource officer and some repairs and improvements to grounds and sidewalks. This arrangement has resulted in significant savings to the taxpayers.

The Westbrook schools, through co-operation with the Sebago Alliance (six other schools in the area) founded and co-sponsored a day treatment program for special education, received grants and are involved in some joint purchases and some professional development for teachers and staff. In addition, even though a complete merger did not materialize, we are in the process of combining our food service program for the 2008-2009 school year and exploring combining transportation departments in 2009-2010 with Windham. These areas will save us additional money.

The school department is continuing to promote a joint superintendent’s office and City Hall. If this materializes significant savings can be realized by merging payroll departments, financial departments, human resources departments and other combinations of departments.

With all this being said, the Westbrook School Department is pleased to be able to present an increase to the taxpayers for the 2008-2009 of only $213,848. This increase includes adult education and approximately $60,955 of new local only debt on the new middle school. This amount of money represents an increase of 1.39 percent. Our overall budget request of $30,780,608 represents an increase of 5.83 percent. Over half of this gross budget increase is due to the new middle school debt service payment of $838,845 and the Department of Education requirements that the Westbrook schools assume the oversight of Spring Harbor Hospital educational component. The oversight of Spring Harbor (a cost of $80,000) will be totally reimbursed by the Department of Education, but the program expense must be included in our overall expenses.

In preparing this article and a presentation to the City Council, we conducted a four-year history of the school department request for city allocation. The results are as follows:

2008-2009 2007-2008 2006-2007 2005-2006

Request of additional money from the city

$213,848 $475,782 $402,693 ($-871,434)

Percent of additional money from the city

1.39 3.19 2.77 (-5.66)

As you can see over the last four years our increase to the local allocation (the amount raised by the city for schools) has gone up by $220,889, an average increase of $55,222 per year or 0.42 percent per year. This means that the Essentials Programs and Services funding model has worked for Westbrook. The Essential Programs and Services funding model was to keep local taxes for schools at a minimum and the history above demonstrates that effectiveness.

Please learn as much as you can for the budget validation vote on June 10, and contact School Committee members or me if you have a question.

Stan Sawyer is the superintendent of schools in Westbrook.

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