The School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors met remotely March 26 to hear a report on the proposed fiscal year 2021 budget.

TOPSHAM — Although School Administrative District 75 officials propose a nearly $46 million budget for next year that is up 9% from current spending, most taxpayers could see a slight decrease in their bills, and some just a slight bump.

The budget was unveiled in a virtual School Board meeting March 26. Projections of how much the average taxpayer in each SAD 75 town were not available by The Forecaster’s deadline; Business Manager Mark Conrad said he will have calculated those by the time the Finance Committee has a final budget recommendation on Monday, April 6.

Still, the current budget shows decreased local assessments for Topsham (0.35%), Harpswell (2.09%) and Bowdoin (1.04%), meaning taxpayers can expect slightly reduced tax bills. Bowdoinham could see a 0.32% increase.

The $45.9 million spending plan is largely offset by $18.7 million in state aid to education, up 23.1%, and $900,000 in fund balance carryover, up 125%.

Given the toll on the economy from the coronavirus pandemic, “we want a budget that strikes the right balance between the needs of our students, and the needs of taxpayers,” Conrad said.

The remaining $26.3 million to come through taxes is down 0.92%.

The budget includes $6.4 million in debt service, up $3.1 million, largely thanks to $4.5 million in principal and interest payments for the new Mt. Ararat High School. Fiscal year 2021 marks SAD 75’s first principal payment on the school, due to open this fall.

Cost increases include $51,000 (up 11.8%) for the food service program to address a growing level of unpaid costs for meals that total nearly $12,000. Those fees were estimated at around 10% of the current figure a few years ago, Conrad said.

“This is reflecting a national trend, as there’s been a focus on assuring that children receive their meals without any negative impact from their parents not having paid fees, and we certainly support that,” he explained. “But we do see this as an emerging concern” that the district might have to address in the coming years.

Other increases include nearly $33,000 (7.4%) in stipends, and about $39,000 for property and liability insurance (up 26.6%), partly due to increased value of the new school. Cost decreases include a buy-out of state technology leases, saving nearly $123,000, and $41,000 in savings by temporarily eliminating funding for the high school’s health clinic.

“We continue to support it, but we’ve actually accrued a fund balance in dedicated funds for that through operating reserves over time,” which is money that can go toward the clinic, Conrad said.

About $142,000 in new expenses include the first-year cost to lease a new district-wide van and pay a driver (nearly $52,000), and increasing a Mt. Ararat Middle School music position from half to full time (nearly $36,000).

Budget cuts totaling about $407,000 include the elimination of a teaching position at Harpswell Community School (nearly $72,000) due to declining enrollment. Enrollment at the kindergarten-to-fifth-grade school has dropped from 182 in 2016-17 to 146 this school year, with numbers projected to fall to 116 by 2021-2022, according to Superintendent Shawn Chabot. Discussions about that cut continue, and that position could be restored, he said.

Other reductions include a part-time vacant administrative assistant position (nearly $44,000), one of two middle school teacher leader roles ($75,000), and 2.3 full-time equivalent literacy teacher leaders district-wide (nearly $177,000). Those latter positions are vacant, and 2.5 positions would remain to be shared by SAD 75’s five elementary schools.

“We feel like instead of having one for every school we could go to 2.5 and feel comfortable with that level of support,” Chabot said.

The School Board is scheduled for April 9 to adopt the budget via virtual hearing, after which SAD 75 residents are due to vote on it twice: at a district budget meeting May 21, and a budget validation referendum June 9. Given the pandemic’s unknown time frame, the latter two dates are subject to change.

Comments are not available on this story.