TOPSHAM — School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors on Wednesday adopted a $46 million proposed budget for next year, 11-2.

Members Tyler Washburn and Eric Lusk opposed the budget, citing concerns over impacts to taxpayers amid the economic challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic. Alison Hawkes abstained, saying more time to discuss the budget is needed.

The School Board also postponed its district budget meeting from May 21 to June 25, and its budget validation referendum from June 9 to July 14. Both are SAD 75 residents’ opportunities to vote on the spending plan. The latter date is when Maine will hold its postponed primary election. The public must ultimately approve the budget, although the coronavirus pandemic has made it uncertain when that will occur. The district is able to operate with its current fiscal year 2020 budget until it has approved one for next year.

SAD 75’s proposed fiscal year 2021 budget is up 9.3% from current spending, but local average tax assessments among the district’s four towns would decrease 1.01%.

An average home in Topsham assessed at $221,200 could see a $10 tax bill decrease. Taxes on a $423,000 Harpswell home could drop $43, and a $118,750 Bowdoin home could see a $19 reduction. Bowdoinham, the only town with an increase, would see a $5 bump. Those estimates are based on January local valuation and home value numbers, and the assessment changes reflect state property valuation and student enrollment, according to Finance Director Mark Conrad.

Chief among the $3.9 million (9.3%) spending hike is a $3.1 million (7.5%) increase in debt service. Of the $6.4 million in total debt service, $4.5 million comprises 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.

Spending is largely offset by $18.7 million in state aid to education, up 23.1%, and $1.1 million in fund balance carryover, up 175%, which help mitigate the impact on taxpayers during this economically challenging time brought on by the pandemic.

The budget includes about $700,000 for all salary increases and an extra $100,000 for special education out-of-district placements. Cost decreases include a buy-out of state technology leases, saving nearly $123,000.

Additions to the budget include a $70,000 allowance to create remediation programs for students resulting from the closure of schools last month due to the pandemic.

Board member Andrea Imrie said she was concerned about supports being in place to address the social, emotional and academic impacts on students who don’t return to school this academic year. She noted the $70,000 allowance, but said student support “may need to be a little bit more of a focus within the budget,” and wondered if increased funding could be considered should final budget approval be pushed to July.

“We’re not going to know the extent of the needs any more a month from today than we will today, unless we have our students back with us,” Superintendent Shawn Chabot said. “… We’re doing our very best educational estimate on where our needs will be.”

Other additions include the first-year lease on a van, along with a driver, to provide transportation flexibility (nearly $52,000), a half-time music teacher (nearly $36,000) in light of growing enrollment at Mt. Ararat Middle School. Another $51,000 (up 11.8%) for the food service program to address the growing cost of unpaid meals, which totals nearly $12,000. Those fees were estimated at around 10% of the current figure a few years ago, according to Conrad.

Budget cuts include eliminating a part-time administrative assistant position, now vacant (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.

“I know there were some tough choices with this budget,” said board member Rachelle Tome, who heads the Finance Committee, “but I think that it’s going to accomplish what we had set out to at the beginning.”

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