The Maine School Administrative District 75 school board meets remotely on Thursday.

TOPSHAM — Maine School Administrative District 75 school board may delay its vote on the 2020-21 budget to consider additional expenses due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Wednesday.  Superintendent Shawn Chabot said the school budget referendum will be pushed back a month to July 14 to coincide with the rescheduled state primary election.

The school board’s finance committee is proposing a $46.1 million budget, which is a 9.5% or $4 million increase over the current budget. However, the portion funded through taxes, $26.5 million, would drop by $20,000 or 0.1%.  The owner of a typical home valued at $118,750 in Bowdoin would see their taxes drop by $15; a typical home in Harpswell valued at $423,000 would see taxes drop $38 and a typical home in Topsham valued at $221,200 would see taxes drop by $5.

The owner of a typical home in Bowdoinham valued at $180,000 would see a $9 increase.

The increase in the spending plan is driven largely by a $3.1 million increase in debt service attached to the new high school and recent roof replacement bonds. However, the district is slated to get an additional $3.5 million in state funding and proposes to spend $1.1 million from its fund balance to help offset property taxes — a $400,000 increase.

Due to the delayed budget referendum, school board member Andrea Imrie of Topsham proposed delaying a board vote on the budget.

“I personally am still having some concerns, one being now, in the event that we don’t go back, we have stated that there’s going to be a big issue with the social-emotional (needs)  and the academic (needs of students),” Imrie said. “The return in September is going to be significant on so many levels and I’m just curious if there needs to be more discussion.”

Students are expected to participate in remote learning and haven’t had classroom instruction since March 16, but Imrie said there are some students probably not getting schooling right now.

“We’ve stated there’s going to be a potentially big slide with kids,” she said.

Chabot said the board could delay adopting a budget, “but on the other hand, to be honest and direct, we’re not going to know the extent of the needs any more a month today than today unless we have our students back with us.”

That proposed budget includes $70,000 to establish remediation programs for students due to the closure of school buildings during the spring of 2020.

Chabot said the school district will also get additional federal funding to help address student learning. Administrators will come back to the board in the fall if they need more support, he said.

School board member Alison Hawkes of Harpswell questioned if the school district was able to get enough public input on the budget.

“I’m also concerned we could be packing things into a budget we may not be able to afford when we go back to school,” she said.

Other board members argued they can make adjustments next fall if needed.

“I do feel comfortable moving forward with the budget because it is a flat budget and I think have done some great work with our longterm financial planning and utilization of the fund balance to mitigate the extremely high cost of our debt service coming online this coming year with the high school,” said board member Holly Kopp of Topsham. “So I feel good about that.”

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