2017-03-17 / Community

School budget numbers taking shape

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer.

The Regional School Unit 21 finance committee met March 9, making two edits to Superintendent Katie Hawes’ proposed $44.3 million budget for the 2017-2018 school year, which will now go to the full board at its March 20 meeting.

At the March 9 session Hawes’ presented further refinements to the numbers in her draft budget, which now comes in at a $1.23 million (2.87 percent) increase over current-year spending. Along with a $1.33 million increase in debt service due to bonds on the $56.5 million school renovation bond, the total budget is up 6.5 percent, according to finance committee chairman Matthew Fadiman.

At the March 9 session, Fadiman’s group proposed a three-year lease deal for new electronic “whiteboards” at the Middle School of the Kennebunks (MSK), reducing that $105,000 line item to just $35,000, Hawes said in a March 13 interview.

However, the committee rolled that $70,000 savings into a plan to hire an additional part-time art teacher at MSK, at a projected cost of about $35,000.

“This was a shortcoming we’ve had in that we only have one art teacher at the middle school,” Hawes said. “We have a lot of kids that have guided study halls and this offers a lot more opportunity for enrichment for them, rather than just being in study hall at that time.”

While spending is up 6.5 percent overall, the exact impact on tax bills is not yet know. That’s because the 10 percent increase penciled in to cover a hike to health insurance premiums — part of a $1.14 million growth in district payroll — is currently a “placeholder.” Hawes said the actual increase may not be set in stone until sometime in April, at the earliest.

Also, the school also has a significant unknown to its revenue line that might impact the bottom line for local tax bills. As currently proposed by Gov. Paul LePage, a recalculation of how the state divvies out subsidies for public education. Unless amended by the state legislature, that plan will carve about $527,000 from the $4.6 million RSU 21 got last year.

About $25,000 of the reduction is due to LePage’s efforts to reduce spending on school administration, Hawes said, but the rest it due to the state funding formula which cuts up the subsidy pie based on a three-year average of local property valuations, as of the most recent state numbers from property sales two years ago.

“Really the bulk of that money is because of our property valuations, which is up by $100 million in our three towns [Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and Arundel], which, in may ways, is really good news,” Hawes said. “So, as a result of really growing our towns, we think the impact of the loss in state aid will be mitigated by a larger tax base. I don’t think it’s going to be as big an impact [on tax bills] as it sounds like.”

Last year’s total RSU budget increase of 8.32 added between $53 and $58 per $100,000 of property assessments to tax bills in the three district towns, driving those homeowner costs up anywhere from 3.46 and 7.53 percent on the portion of the annual property tax attributable to public education.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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