2017-05-26 / Columns

Thriving schools, thriving communities

Superintendent’s Spotlight
By Kathryn M. Hawes Special to the Post

It’s school budget season.

This marks the most public part of the school budget process. In fact, we started our school budget planning last November.

We asked each school principal or department head to begin at zero and forecast the needs and priorities for next school year. They looked at current needs, enrollment trends, educational supplies, furniture and equipment wear, and curriculum and assessment needs and submitted a proposal to central office by the first of January.

The following six weeks entailed individual meetings with each administrator to conduct a line by line review. In the end, we reviewed, accepted or revised 3,294 budget lines. Those 3,294 budget lines became the superintendent’s budget.

In February, each administrator presented his or her budget to the finance committee for another line by line review. In March the proposed budget was unanimously adopted by the finance committee. In April, the finance committee budget was revised and adopted by the school board of directors.

Last evening, the school board’s recommended budget was strongly supported by the public during our annual district budget meeting.

There are three big factors impacting this budget, the debt service or bond payments on our construction loan, contractual increases in salaries and insurance for our employees, and a reduction in the amount of state general purpose aid for education.

Debt Service

This is the second year of the highest three years of bond payments. After fiscal year 2019, the payments will gradually decrease for the final 18 years of the bonds.

The bond payments represent a $1.3 million increase on our school budget this year. And, even though our communities voted in strong support to borrow the money, and we are clearly expending it on our building projects, voters still need to approve the payments each year as part of our annual school budget. We borrowed the money at an extremely low 2.55 percent interest rate.

However, we still need to pay it back. Our building projects are on schedule and within budget. Kennebunkport Consolidated School was the first of our three major renovation projects to reach completion, hosting tours and a ribbon cutting ceremony in early December.

Mildred L. Day students have moved into their new building and we are planning a ribbon cutting ceremony on June 9 at 2 p.m.

Kennebunk High School is shaping up to be absolutely beautiful with lots of natural light, appropriately sized classrooms and hallways and a new library, auditorium and cafeteria.

We will move into the new sections in September and begin renovations on the 1981 and 1939 parts of the existing building.

Personnel

Our employee bargaining units negotiate three-year contracts. This year, the teacher pay increase is 2 percent. While this percentage is not high, we are the largest employer in town with almost 500 employees. Our insurance provider, Anthem Blue Cross / Blue Shield has increased rates by 9.1 percent. Combined, our salary and benefit obligations represent another $1.3 million increase.

Reduction in state aid

The Maine Legislature is still working on aspects of the governor’s proposed biennial budget. We anticipate final numbers in late June or July.

Our preliminary numbers indicate a $527,000 decrease in our state general purpose aid. $50,000 of this amount involves the governor’s proposal to remove all central office functions (payroll, hiring, business office, superintendent, etc.) from the funding formula.

The remaining $477,000 is due to an increase in property valuations across our three towns. Counter to a declining population and so called “graying” across Maine, our schools are thriving and enrollment is increasing.

The largest increases are occurring in late elementary and middle school. Young families consistently report moving to the area for our schools.

As a result, property valuation in RSU 21 has grown by $100 million, making us one of the fastest growing communities in Maine. Property value and tax base have increased substantially.

The negative result is our state funding for education has decreased by $477,000. The good news is, your schools and communities are thriving, your property value assets are increasing and there is a larger tax base to help mitigate the impact of this loss to the individual taxpayer.

The final step in our budget process occurs on June 13 at the voter polling stations in each town.

Hopefully, this information has provided some general information about our proposed budget. For more information, please visit our website or pick up a copy of our Annual Report at various public places in each town.

Please exercise your democratic right to vote on June 13.

Kathryn Hawes is superintendent of schools for Regional School Unit 21.

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