SACO — The City Council in Saco removed about $500,000 in funding from the proposed school budget on Monday, June 8, approving a $42.46 million school spending plan to send to voters July 14.

The council also approved the $29.5 million city budget for the coming fiscal year.

The impact of the approval would be 26 cents on the mil, or tax rate, if voters give a thumbs up to the school budget. The municipality’s  calculations show the city budget reduces the tax rate by 2 cents, which would be offset by an expected 2 cent increase in York County government tax. The proposed school budget has a 26 cent impact on the tax rate.

Currently, Saco’s mil rate is $19.38 per $1,000 worth of property; the proposed increase would potentially take it to $19.64 —  but that could change, depending on the city’s valuation; new growth in the city could result in a lower mil rate.

The School Board had approved $419,000 in cuts to the proposed budget on May 27, after the City Council asked them to look for reductions.

School Finance Director Jason DiDonato told the City Council on Monday that using $500,000 as a benchmark for additional cuts could mean a reduction in staffing by 10 teachers.

Councilors urged the Saco School Board, which makes those decisions, to cut elsewhere. The cuts were expected to be discussed by the School Board at a meeting scheduled for Wednesday, June 10. Decisions must be made by Friday to meet ballot requirements, councilors said, since absentee ballots for the July 14 vote are expected to be available the first of the week.

“School leadership is going to make the decision, whether its teachers, ed techs, others … it’s not the council making the decisions,” Councilor Alan Minthorn said. The proposed school spending plan — which is $2 million more than in the current year, covers $1.1 million the School Department was authorized to take from surplus for the current year, $850,000 in contractual increases, and a bit extra, he said.

“While we may not be cutting individual teachers, it’s likely this approving this will lead to that,” said Councilor Nathan Johnston. “I would hope the School Board would look at other areas of making those cuts.”

Councilor Lynn Copeland moved for a further cut, to $40.5 million. She said she’s had many phone calls and emails from constituents unhappy with the proposed school budget.

If the amount was reduced further, Johnston said,  “I don’t know how the schools would operate.”

Copeland’s bid for a further reduction was defeated.

The council then acted on the motion made by Minthorn, for the $42.46 million school budget figure.

“I’m not a fan of the (school) budget but there are times we need to move forward,”  said Councilor Jodi MacPhail.

Minthorn pointed out that earlier in the year the council was made aware that some teachers might retire and noted that some staff may choose to move on to different districts.

“If that is the case, hopefully this will not lead to headcount impacts and the (school) board will find other avenues to keep staff on board,” he said.

The council did make a couple of changes to the city budget — adding a one-year facilities position to help with extra cleaning of city buildings and other measures to help protect employees and others from coronavirus. The facilities position is called temporary this year, but City Administrator Bryan Kaenrath indicated he would seek to make the postition a regular one in the next budget cycle. The city would seek state or federal reimbursement for duties associated with coronavirus-related tasks.

The second change in the city budget came from some savings, $132,715 altogether, identified by Finance Director Glenys Salas, that reduces the city’s debt service.

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