SOUTH PORTLAND — Superintendent of Schools Suzanne Godin on Wednesday night presented a 3.5 percent budget increase to the School Board, which will conduct budget reviews next week.
The fiscal 2010 budget proposal is for $44.1 million in spending, including $40.8 million in locally funded programs. The local share of the proposed budget is $869,000 larger than last year and would increase the School Department’s share of the tax rate by 39 cents, from $9.16 per $1,000 of valuation to $9.55.
Thirteen jobs are eliminated in the proposal, which meets the City Council’s direction to cap tax increases at 3.5 percent.
Godin said next year’s proposed budget assumes the state will decrease state education aid by $875,000, because it’s still unclear how much money the city will get from the $787 billion federal stimulus package and how it can be used.
“There are strings attached to how that (federal stimulus) money can be spent,” Godin said.
One of those strings, she said, is the School Department may not be able to infuse its share of the stimulus money into its local budget. The early indication from state officials is that stimulus money may only be used to fill positions and services affected by the state curtailment order, or to fund specific projects.
“I feel like we’re building this budget on quick sand,” Godin said.
The proposed budget places a greater emphasis on school maintenance. More than $688,000 is proposed for maintenance projects. The department is also seeking a $5.8 million bond for what it considers critical repairs for the high school and middle schools.
The 13 jobs targeted for elimination represent savings of $237,000, Godin said. They include three cheerleading coaches, three middle school and high school library clerks and a part-time special education social worker.
A special education position, a middle school “homework helper”/summer intervention specialist, and substitute teacher expenses are also targeted for reductions. However, these cuts may be restored using stimulus money.
“We don’t have definitive answers yet,” Godin said.
Godin said the district over the last few years has been able to reduce its per student cost by $50 to $75, leaving personnel reductions as the only way to find savings.  The district will pay out $1.1 million in salary increases next year, she said.
“We are well into the bone at this point,” Godin said. “At this point, reductions have to come from people.”
There are also $208,000 in supplemental requests for the School Board to consider. Those include $79,000 for kindergarten through fifth-grade math literacy implementation, $125,000 for an internal snow plowing program and $4,300 for two-way radios and a pressure washer for the transportation department.
The board scheduled a budget workshop for Thursday night, after The Forecaster’s deadline, to discuss the proposed maintenance requests and projected enrollments, among other items. The board will also hold 7p.m. budget workshops on Monday and Tuesday, March 2 and 3. Budget sessions are held in the library of Memorial Middle School on Wescott Road.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected] 

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