CUMBERLAND — The updated School Administrative District 51 budget for fiscal year 2020 proposes adding $30,000 to address racist behavior by students.

Superintendent Jeff Porter said in a March 26 letter to parents that he was aware of “a handful of incidents … dealing with hate speech and specifically racial discrimination” in grades 6-12.

While administrators “swiftly and thoroughly responded” to those incidents, Porter said he felt a “broader response” is needed.

The use of social media outside of school hours and off school grounds was a common thread in the hate speech issues brought to Porter’s attention. He said there were two racist posts in particular.

“Because of the disruption that is carried into the schools from this digital impact, the schools have had to respond in order to maintain an environment suitable for learning,” Porter noted. “Issues that were once confined to a limited audience are now magnified for all to see and grasp in an instant.”

Porter asked parents to monitor and ask questions about the online activities of their children, particularly their Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter accounts.

There were two other incidents at Greely Middle School: a student used a racial slur against another student, and a student placed a “racially-oppressive image” on a computer screen, Porter said Tuesday. All four incidents occurred between January and March.

His budget proposal for the 2019-2020 school year, updated Monday, April 22, includes $20,000 for equity and inclusion training for students and staff, and $10,000 for an equity needs assessment.

An informational meeting for students, school staff and parents interested in joining an equity and inclusion steering committee will be held at 4 p.m. May 20; it will likely be held at the Greely Center for the Arts. The district is also in discussions with groups outside SAD 51 that work with issues surrounding racism, diversity and discrimination.

“I recognize that one of our community’s strengths is the divergent viewpoints and experiences of our stakeholders,” Porter wrote last month. “But there is a tear in the fabric that binds us, and we must acknowledge it before we can move forward together. Hate speech and racial discrimination have no place in our school district or our community.”

“Though I can only hope, as we all do, for an inclusive and caring school district,” Porter added, “the fact remains that some of our students and families do not feel this way right now. We can and must do better.”

Budget hearing

A public hearing Monday for the proposed $38.3 million budget – down nearly $100,000 from its introduction last month – drew no comment from the audience.

The SAD 51 Board of Directors is due Monday, May 6, to adopt the fiscal year 2020 spending plan. The Cumberland-North Yarmouth budget then goes to two public votes: a district budget meeting May 16, and a budget validation referendum June 11.

The spending plan as originally presented was due to rise 2.94 %, at which point the district had budgeted a 9% increase in employee health insurance. That number ultimately came in at 7%, saving SAD 51 nearly $149,000, which helped reduce the budget hike to 2.66% – compared with 3.8% a year ago.

A revenue jump in state aid to education has largely offset the increased expenses.  The district expects to receive $11.8 million in state aid to education – a $961,000 increase over fiscal year 2019, and the most SAD 51 has received since fiscal year 2017. The subsidy still depends on legislative approval.

Projected district revenues, including state subsidy, total $12.1 million, an increase of 6.88%.

When those revenues are subtracted from the total budget, $26.2 million remains to be assessed to the two towns. Cumberland’s share would be $18.9 million, while North Yarmouth’s would be $7.3 million.

SAD 51 officials expect no tax increase to result from the school budget.

Regular instruction, which consumes the largest portion of spending, totals $17.3 million, a 3.21% increase. Special education, totaling $6.9 million, is up 1.71%. Debt service is $2.8 million, a 3.77% hike, due to payments for the new Greely Center for the Arts.

Porter compared the SAD 51 budget and tax impacts with similar “cohort” districts in the area. Falmouth is looking at a 5.5% spending increase and 4.04% tax hike, he said; for Yarmouth, those respective numbers are 8% and 4.3%; for Cape Elizabeth, 7.77% and 7%.

Alex Lear can be reached at 780-9085 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

School Administrative District 51 Superintendent Jeff Porter on Monday presented an updated budget proposal for the next fiscal year, including $30,000 for training and a needs assessment to deal with racism among students.

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