WINSLOW — The school board will request less money from the town than initially expected for the upcoming fiscal year, but more than last year.

School board members unanimously approved the first reading of a $16,275,873 budget at its regular meeting Monday night, representing a 4.51 percent increase from last year’s budget. The department is requesting $8,008,464.39 to be raised through municipal taxes, which would be a 11.17 percent increase in the amount of money raised locally from last year. The overall budget last year was $15,573,800.95, with $7,203,810.46 coming from Winslow tax dollars.

The need for another school bus and rising sewer costs in Winslow upped the school budget from a proposed $16.251 million going into Monday’s meeting to the $16.275 million that was approved 6-0 by the end. Superintendent Peter Thiboutot told the board that he learned of increases in Winslow’s sewer rates at the last Town Council meeting, on April 8. The school had budgeted for a 24 percent increase, when in reality, the increase in sewer rates was 50 percent. Investing in an extra bus now, said board Chairman Joel Selwood, would help offset increased bond payments next year, as the state reimburses money for a replacement bus purchase at the end of the fiscal year in which it is purchased.

“The problem is we’ve been cutting a bus every year for quite some time when we should be replacing them,” Thiboutot said.  “The other issue is whenever you apply for a bus as part of the replacement program, the state requires that you remove a bus from program when you get a new one. … We should be removing one or two (of our spares) in the coming year, and we already have one out of service this year. If we only ask for one bus, we could be a bus short in the upcoming year.”

The town’s overall budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which reflects an earlier estimate of $8.125 million in taxpayer money for the School Department, poses a 4 percent overall tax increase, with the median homeowner paying an additional $109.50 this year. The median property value in Winslow is $146,000. Councilors approved the first reading of this budget and will have a second reading in May.

Included in the school budget is $141,899.03 of savings from a lower-than-expected insurance rate that Thiboutot announced at the April 8 council meeting. He added today, though, that there could be changes to that figure.

“The problem is since we’ve made so many cuts in salaries and people, the insurance company has to recalculate the rates,” he told the school board.

The biggest factors influencing the $804,653.93 increase for the School Department this year are bond payments on the school renovation project and “minor capital projects”— $488,670.12 — an increase in salaries and benefits amounting to $122,353 and a revenue shortfall of $102,582 from the current fiscal year. The Legislature is in the process of deciding whether or not to raise teachers’ minimum pay to $40,000. It also has not decided on how much it will fund K-12 education and revenue sharing.

“We’re probably going to find out June 30, one minute to midnight,” Councilor Jerry Quirion said at Monday’s school board meeting. “I’ve seen that year after year after year.”

While the state subsidy the district will receive is currently up by $349,366.12 — 4.96 percent more than last year — Winslow’s school revenue is expected to drop in part because of lingering effects of the dissolution of Alternative Organizational Structure 92. The department will not save as much this year as it did last year on sharing site coordinators, an instructional specialist, a finance assistant and technology department with Vassalboro. It also has less surplus carried over from last year. Revenue from town tuition also dropped over 36 percent from last year, constituting the largest single-line revenue loss for the upcoming year, at $160,790.02.

In March, the School Department came up with a preliminary figure of $1,752,299 to be raised through local taxes. Thiboutot met with administrators from the three schools over the past several weeks to shave $947,645 off of the initial proposal. This was primarily accomplished, Thiboutot said, by making staff adjustments and cutting three new requested teacher and educational technician positions.

“(Tonight’s budget) is significantly less than the first round that we presented to you,” Thiboutot noted. 

Still, six teachers across the district are resigning or retiring without replacement next year and eight vacated roles will be covered by existing staff members. Five are being being proposed as additions to meet the schools’ needs. The positions that will not be replaced include two teachers at the junior high school, a guidance secretary and custodian at the high school, as well as a computer technician and level III English language learning educational technician. New positions include one level II educational technician for Winslow Elementary School, one level II educational technician for the junior high school, and an educational interpreter for a special-needs student who is expected to enroll in the elementary school next year. An additional first-grade teacher will have a salary covered by federal funds. The board also requests increasing the subcontracting allocation to cover the cut of the high school custodian.

The Town Council previously has expressed approval for the budget, with At-large Councilor Ken Fletcher acknowledging that this has been a particularly difficult year.

This has been a challenging budget year,” Fletcher said at an April 8 meeting. “I just want to commend the school board and Superintendent Thiboutot. This was not an easy budget, but I appreciate all the time and energy to get to the number.”

“I think we’re at a pretty good spot with the council on this,” Selwood said Monday.

 

RENOVATION COSTS WAITING

Also on Monday, Thiboutot and Selwood announced that school administrators, the building committee, the architect and construction manger are continuing to talk about what can be adjusted to the school renovation plans in order to come in under budget.

“There’s a number of things that have been identified as add-alternates,” Selwood said. “We’ll see if we have the money to do them. We’d love to re-do, for example, the front offices in the elementary school for number of reasons, but if we don’t have money to do that, that’s one of the add-alternates. There are definitely more at the high school — a lot more work is being done there. Once we get updated pricing from the construction manager, we’ll know where we are moneywise and we can decide what’s the priority for add-alternates, and what can we afford to put back in.”

Construction Manager Peter Pelletier, of Ledgewood Construction, previously said that the updated pricing should be ready by May 1.

Councilors John Ferry and Cory Dow raised concerns about worsening traffic jams around drop-off and pickup time.

That will have to be another conversation, another time, another project,” said Winslow Elementary School Principal Kyle Price, who also raised the idea of working out an arrangement with the owners of a nearby Dean Street parking lot. “We’ll have to live within those means.” 

Similarly, if enrollment in the elementary school continues to increase, the district will have to reconsider adding more classroom space down the line.

“If it’s incremental growth, it’s going to be tight,” he said.

The council will meet next to discuss the budget at 7 p.m. May 13, The next school board meeting is at 6 p.m. May 20.

 

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