CUMBERLAND — With the school budget referendum less than a week away, the Board of Directors of School Administrative District 51 this week defended itself against claims by some Cumberland and North Yarmouth residents that budget cuts were made too hastily.

The fiscal 2010 budget validation vote is Tuesday, May 26. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Cumberland Town Hall for Cumberland voters and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Wescustogo Hall for North Yarmouth voters.

The vote will affirm or reject the proposed $28 million school budget as approved by a public meeting vote planned Thursday, May 21, after The Forecaster’s deadline. The budget represents flat funding from this year, but would add 47 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to the Cumberland tax rate and 92 cents to the North Yarmouth mil rate. Those are increases of 3.4 and 8.2 percent, respectively.

Though many citizen concerns over spending were appeased by the flat budget, the School Board has received some recent criticism for reaching that goal in a way some say happened too quickly.

Superintendent Robert Hasson originally presented a budget with a 2.9 percent increase over this year. Over about a month, that budget was reduced to a 1.9 percent increase. Cuts included eliminating some education technicians and some full-time teacher positions throughout the district’s five schools. Many of those cuts were made because of shifting enrollments.

After being asked to get the budget even lower – especially because that budget would have required double-digit tax increases for North Yarmouth residents – the School Board one week later was presented with the flat budget, which calls for cutting more positions, including deans of students at both the high and middle schools.

The final board-approved budget adds one fifth-grade teacher and maintains sixth-grade class sizes within board guidelines, both of which were concerns of parents presented with early versions of the budget. It also includes funding for the International Baccalaureate diploma program at the high school, which will begin its inaugural year in September after more than a year of planning.

The School Board supported the flat budget 6-1, with North Yarmouth representative Dan Panici opposed. Panici agreed with citizen concerns that the zero-increase funding was reached too quickly, and instead expressed his support for the intermediate 1.9 percent increase. Panici said at the time he hoped some of the cuts with larger impacts – especially the deans of students – could be evaluated more over time.

At this week’s board meeting, other board members said those cuts were discussed in talks about school district and building priorities, so they were no surprise to board members and school administrators.

Most board members agreed Monday that the process most visible to the public should be changed in the future, more visibly involving teachers, parents, students and the public in the early, priority-setting phase of budgeting.

The board expects to begin addressing its next budget as soon as possible in the fall – the Department of Education has already suggested districts should plan on seeing state funding cuts 2.5 times the size of this year’s curtailment in budgets the year after next. SAD 51 this year saw a curtailment of about $350,000, which would make the expected 2011 shortfall $875,000.

This year’s curtailment is being reimbursed through the federal stimulus package, but because that package is set to drop off in 2011 and state revenue is plummeting, major school funding shortages are projected for 2011.

Under year-old state school consolidation laws, all public school districts must have their budgets approved through a public validation election. If the SAD 51 budget is not approved May 26 by a majority of combined Cumberland and North Yarmouth voters, the school board must revise the 2010 budget for another vote.  That process continues until a budget is approved.

Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or [email protected].

filed under: