FARMINGTON – Regional School Unit 9 directors discussed $38.4 million in proposed expenditures, additional supports for students when they return to in-class instruction and revenue sources at Tuesday evening’s board meeting, conducted via videoconferencing.
The board utilizes a budget committee of seven directors who attend full-day presentations on proposed expenditures and revenue figures, prior to its presentation to the entire board. Directors on that committee this year include Chair Cherieann Harrison of Wilton and Directors Carol Cole of Starks, Kirk Doyle of Farmington, Jeff Harris of New Sharon, J. Wayne Kinney of Farmington, Angela LeClair of Wilton and Dennis O’Neil of Farmington.
The budget presented at Tuesday’s meeting included $38,477,311 in general fund expenditures, an increase of $1.35 million over the current fiscal year or 3.64 percent.
Approximately 66.1 percent of the K-12 budget would be paid for via the district’s General Purpose Aid, funds provided by the state. As is the case in previous years, state subsidy is up through a combination of increases in enrollment – Superintendent Tina Meserve said that the district had gained 141 students in the past three years – as well as changes at the state level, such as additional funding for system administration and career and technical education through the Foster Career and Technical Center. The district also will begin seeing the benefit of participating in a regional service center.
As presented, the proposed budget would utilize $20.3 million in state funding and $10.4 million in locally-assessed funds required to garner that full state contribution. Beyond this Essential Programs & Services funding, established through a state formula, is the additional local allocation which covers a variety of programs either not covered by the state, such as athletic positions and after school programs, or adds additional money, such as adding teaching positions and subsequently reducing class size. The additional local allocation is up $189,741 in the proposed budget, although that is somewhat offset by a $138,010 decrease in the required local allocation.
In response to a question from a board member, Meserve said that the district did anticipate having funds left over at the end of the fiscal year, due to the schools being closed to in-classroom instruction and the district’s budget freeze, of between $2 and $2.5 million. Those funds could be spent only after the auditor reviewed the district’s finances and reports to the state in December 2020. The money could then be used by the district to help pay for the 2021-22 budget or potentially be used to absorb a curtailment, should the state withhold funding due to revenue losses associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The proposed budget does include $500,000 in balance forward revenue, the same as the previous year.
Per the district’s revenue figures, the impact of the K-12 budget on local tax assessments would be an increase of 0.25 percent or $33,372. That increase would rise to .45 percent, or $61,395, when Adult Education expenditures are added into the budget. The projected change would lead to decreases in three town’s assessments and increases in the other seven. Specifically, Chesterville would see a decrease of $25,386 or 2.39 percent; Farmington would see a decrease of $70,221 or 1.46 percent; Industry would see a decrease of $24,597 or 2.64 percent; New Sharon would see an increase of $22,044 or 2.11 percent; New Vineyard would see an increase of $26,856 or 3.51 percent; Starks would see an increase of $33,095 or 6.88 percent; Temple would see an increase of $4,228 or .98 percent; Vienna would see an increase of $15,593 or 2.13 percent; Weld would see a decrease of $16,959 or 3.42 percent; and Wilton would see an increase of $47,548 or 1.72 percent.
Historically, over a five year period, the local assessment associated with the K-12 school budget has increased an average of .55 percent annually, counting the proposed budget. Local assessments went down 2 percent in FY17 and FY18, then up 6.25 percent in FY19, up .27 percent in FY20 (the current fiscal year, set during last year’s budget process) and up .25 percent in the proposed FY21 budget.
Increases in the budget include raises for salaries employees – the school board previously approved increases to support staff and administrator pay and is currently negotiating with teachers – as well as moving another teacher out of federal classroom reduction grant and into the budget and moving an English Language Learning teacher from part- to full-time and $24,000 for school supplies. The budget also includes $110,000 to move six ed tech positions currently working 5.5 hours to full-time, which would extend benefits to those positions. Directors on the budget committee and Meserve said that was designed to try and retain employees.
“We can’t keep these positions filled,” Director LeClair said. “People come here, get trained and go to a different district for a little more wage or benefits.”
Special Education would see a nearly $400,000 increase, or 6.5 percent, due to additional personnel. The budget also includes $60,000 for an assistant superintendent position, with a third of that cost mitigated through an associated reduction in Curriculum Coordinator funding. Other increases include the second step of the summer salary accrual plan, $80,000, additional funding for nurses, the Extended Year Program, student assessments, the local share of the cost of two buses through the Volkswagon emissions settlement, or $78,000, among other expenses.
The budget also includes facility improvements ranging from replacing exterior doors that are rusting, installing additional cameras in some buildings, Americans with Disabilities Act upgrades at the Academy Hill School and Cascade Brook School, replacement equipment including a kitchen steamer at Cape Cod Hill School, an environmental control system at Mt. Blue Middle School, desks and tables designed to accommodate additional students at MBMS, among other items.
Foster Tech’s budget is up nearly $400,000 for a variety of new programs, including criminal justice, an emergency medical technician class and an electrician satellite program. All of that increase is being covered by the state; due to changes in the funding for vocational programming, that money is now separated from general purpose aid funding and can only be spent of Foster Tech.
The Adult Education budget is proposed to go to $465,972; the local allocation would increase by $28,025 to $209,717.
Directors discussed several elements of the budget Tuesday evening, eventually moving to continue deliberations at their next scheduled meeting in two weeks.
Some directors spoke to the importance of adding a position to address drug and alcohol issues at MBHS, a $80,000 licensed counselor that did not make the proposed budget after the committee process. Director Irving Faunce said that addressing that issue was important, particularly given the extra months students had spent away from school supports.
“We’re in a place we’ve never been before,” Faunce said. “Particularly in education.”
Meserve said that expenditure had been considered but that with additional Title 4 funding anticipated in relation to COVID-19 pandemic relief, funds to support students with substance abuse issues could be made available.
Another item not in the budget that directors spoke in favor of was funding for the Success & Innovation Center. The center provides a place for students to come to get help on projects, help accessing resources for specific problems or help coping with day-to-day life. The center is staffed by a teacher and an ed tech and has been funded by a GEAR Up grant for three years, ending this year.
Director Craig Stickney of Chesterville said that he wanted to see that $110,000 program placed in the budget, as he had heard positive things about the SIC’s impact. He suggested removing the assistant superintendent position and pushing more district expenses into grant funding to encompass the increase. That latter move was cited as a possibility by Meserve earlier in the meeting, as restrictions on federal Title money are being relaxed due to the pandemic. That would allow for the possibility of keeping an extra teaching position and/or some technology funding in the Title money, rather than paying for it as part of the EPS or above-EPS funding.
Additional federal revenue may be available, equaling 80 percent of the district’s Title 1 funding or roughly $600,000, but Meserve noted that receipt of that funding wasn’t certain.
Information about the budget committee’s presentations and deliberations can be found here, including video from the meetings.