With an estimate of nearly $1 million in a surplus account, the Westbrook School Committee is looking at spending some $850,000 on school improvements.

Initial estimates, according to Jim Violette, school board chairman, show there is a $954,000 surplus in the 2012-2013 budget, but until the books are officially closed on June 30, the end of the fiscal year, and a review can be done of all the income and expenditures, the figure cannot be confirmed.

“The surplus won’t be reported until after the books close. That might not be until August,” said Violette.

On June 12, School Committee members voted to move forward two plans for a second reading on Wednesday, June 19, after the American Journal’s deadline.

School administrators have known since March, when meetings on the 2013-14 budget began, that there would be a surplus in this year’s budget, barring any unforeseen incident. The $850,000 in improvements proposed last week were originally requested in department budgets, but Superintendent Marc Gousse and the School Committee removed them and instead put them into a list of requests to be paid for using the surplus, if indeed it still existed after the books close on June 30.

On June 11, less than 5 percent of the voting population in Westbrook approved the $32.1 million budget, up more than $1 million from this year’s budget. Westbrook will receive more federal funding this year because of a rise in student population, which covers the increased budget at no additional cost to the taxpayers.

The surplus is due in large part to the spending freeze Gousse placed on the district earlier this year to combat the potential loss from federal funds.

The surplus money is being split into tier 1 and tier II improvements, with the recommendations being prioritized by need and “classified as costs not identified in the WSD general fund,” according to a memo sent to the School Committee by Gousse.

Tier 1 includes a new fire alarm system, door replacement, new equipment for the smart boards, student laptops, kindergarten through sixth grade teacher laptops and building updates, all to the tune of $570,000. All five committee members voted in favor of spending the money.

Tier II recommendations include spending money on bleachers and new lighting for Olmsted Field, a storage and maintenance structure at the middle school, maintenance and time-tracking software, paving upgrades, and support to both the Westbrook Performing Arts Center and the Fred C. Wescott Community Center for approximately $280,000.

Ed Symbol was the one dissenting committee member vote on the tier II recommendations. Alex Stone was not present during the meeting.

Symbol did not approve spending the tier II funds after he made an amendment to the original motion requesting that the $50,000 earmarked for new lights at Olmsted Field – one-third of the total cost – be moved into the contingency fund until an unnamed private organization, which has promised to raise $50,000, comes through on its third of the costs. The city will donate another $50,000 to purchase the $150,000 lights on the field.

The plan also calls for new visitor-side bleachers, which could seat around 480 people, at a cost of $100,000. The old bleachers were removed in 2011.

Lights that illuminated Olmsted Field for the past 40 years were removed in October, after one light was discovered dangling dangerously. Gousse said upon closer look, the lighting was deemed to be hazardous and removed. Newer lighting fixtures will provide better visibility on the field and work more efficiently than the old system, which was put up on wooden cross pieces by the National Guard in 1973.

“The whole community fundraiser thing, we’ve been down this road before,” said Symbol. “I don’t know how many of you remember, but we did ‘restore the field, restore the pride.’ There were bottle drives, options to name the fields, name the posts, and they raised about $7,000. I just don’t hold a lot of faith in this.

“The money isn’t going away. The fear is if we earmark $50,000 and we don’t use it for a whole year, it can’t be used if something happens. If there is some major expense we don’t know, having that 50 grand in contingency fund is a lot smarter. All kinds of things can happen in the course of the year. I’m not really in favor of lighting, to be honest. I don’t think it’s a necessary piece. We’re talking about a quarter of a million dollars to play four football games and eight soccer games in the fall. It’s hard to spend $250,000 [for bleachers and lights] for that.”

As soon as the $50,000 fundraising goal is met, the lights will be installed, possibly even in time for the upcoming fall season.

Symbol’s amendment to place the $50,000 in the contingency account failed. The original motion to spend $280,000 on tier II projects passed with only Symbol voting against.

The tier II spending also includes a new storage and maintenance structure at the middle school, which will allow for tractor storage and include bathrooms. The structure will be built by vocational students at a significant cost savings to the district.

The remaining $104,000 in the estimated surplus would be placed in a contingency fund.

In other committee news, lunch prices are under consideration for a 10-cent increase to $1.95 for kindergarten through Grade 8 students and $2.15 for high school students.

The School Committee will evaluate spending additional district funds on a gifted and talented teacher that was expected to be funded using $74,000 in Title 1 federal grant money. Members thought the $74,000 salary, including benefits, was not enough to make the one-year position lucrative enough to attract good candidates. Members will review a funding plan on June 19.

Lights that illuminated Olmsted Field for 40 years were removed in October, after it was determined they posed a danger. Now, surplus money in the school budget is being earmarked to help pay for new lighting.

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