School budget preparation is under way

By Maria Libby | Jan 12, 2017

You may have read the press release I recently sent out regarding our decision at the high school to go with a less expensive option for the one-to-one technology device for students.

We elected to enter into a lease for iPads instead of laptops because it is roughly half the money. Although we knew that laptops were preferred, we simply could not justify their expense given the financial landscape. Furthermore, we felt that iPads, while not ideal, can still get the job done. We are working very hard to contain costs in both our districts in anticipation of a new middle school and with the financial implications of the new facility approved for the Mid-Coast School of Technology. We expect MCST to add more than $500,000 in the Five Town CSD (Camden Hills Regional High School) share for that bond payment set to begin in 2018-2019.

With that backdrop, school administrators are in the thick of preparing budgets. Principals are currently reviewing requests from teachers and considering the overall school needs. Once they provide the initial scrutiny, they will send their school budgets to the Central Office where the business manager and I will look through them with a fine-toothed comb. Undoubtedly, more cuts will be made before going to the School Board as the “2017-18 Requested Budget” in February. As we develop budgets, our filters are the following:

— What is in the best interest of our students?

— What is fiscally responsible to our taxpayers?

— What is needed to continually improve and pursue excellence for all?

— What is needed to move forward on our strategic plan?

And we are asking questions such as these:

— What can and should be either reduced or eliminated to reassign resources to higher priorities?

— What might no longer make sense because it’s original purpose is no longer relevant?

— Are we allocating staff in the most efficient way?

Because teacher salaries account for the majority of a school budget, and because teachers negotiate their contracts (typically for a three-year term), increases in their salaries automatically mean that a school’s status quo budget increases each year between 2 to 3 percent. I fully support competitive salaries for our teaching staff — quality instruction is the most important factor (that we control) in student learning and is the key to a successful school. In order to contain costs however, most school districts need to cut expenses elsewhere, and it is no different for us. Occasionally an increase in revenues can offset the expense increases, so that expenses don’t have to be cut, but generally, schools look for ways to cut expenses each year.

It is a precarious balance, because any school system wants to retain the programming that is important and valuable for students and the community. Every community has certain expectations for their schools and ours are generally high. Our communities have long supported education and we are all very fortunate because of that. Our students have had an exceptional array of opportunities and the quality of their experience here has made a difference in their lives.

However, we recognize that there are many residents in our area who are struggling to make ends meet and for whom an increase in property taxes takes a bite out of a fixed income. We are sensitive to this and we have these taxpayers in mind as we make budget decisions. Again, we are trying to balance the various constituency needs. The board gave the administration conservative budget targets and we plan to develop budgets that meet those targets. For the past couple of years, and for the next couple, our budgets will be as tight as they can be. An increase in any area will necessitate a decrease in another. This is what we can do for the community to help prepare for two to three years out when we expect to see a larger increase in our budgets due to new school projects. We hope the community appreciates our sensitivity and scrutiny when it comes to school-related tax increases and we hope the community continues to support education. A quality educational system is good for all of us in myriad ways!

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