CAMDEN, Maine — A group of residents asked the Camden Select Board on Tuesday night to consider reducing the town’s spending on schools from 71.4 percent of all town taxpayer money to 60 percent.
“The effect would be to create an additional $955,000 for town purposes other than the schools,” said Alex Armentrout, representing Citizens for Value in Education. “We’re not talking about cuts that take us back to the Stone Age. We’re talking about something that when you look at it in context should be something worth talking about.”
Armentrout brought sheets of numbers comparing budgets and academic results of Maine schools against SAD 28’s Camden and Rockport schools.
Special education was one of Camden’s largest budget lines in the reports Armentrout presented, costing SAD 28 more than $2 million in the 2008-09 year. Armentrout said this line could be reduced by more early detection of special needs. If learning inefficiencies were identified earlier, Armentrout said, more of the special education students might be able to stay in the mainstream.
“Schools recognize that they have a problem in that regard,” Armentrout said about the cost of special education. “The state doesn’t pay for it anymore; it’s a very, very expensive part of the budget.”
Select Board member Anita Brosius-Scott said Armentrout’s numbers were not comparing “apples to apples” because of the varying percentages of disadvantaged students in the different districts. SAD 28 has about 20 percent disadvantaged students, compared to only 5.3 percent at Cape Elizabeth and nearly 50 percent in Bel-fast’s former SAD 34.
Board member Debbie Dodge said that although SAD 28 had the second-highest cost per student in the report’s selection, the district also reflected good reading and writing scores. The report compared SAD 28 with Ellsworth, SAD 34, SAD 22 in the Hampden area, Wells-Ogunquit CSD, Freeport, Cape Elizabeth, and SAD 35 in the Marshwood area.
Although Dodge said the reading and writing scores were high, she said SAD 28 lagged in math and science.
“We’re way down there in math and science, and none of the schools are stellar,” Dodge said. “I’m not sure we’re getting everything we should for our money, I think he has a very good point.”
Tom Farley, a Rockport selectman, spoke in favor of the group’s efforts to lower the percentage of taxpayer money that goes to education. He also requested more public comment on school budgets.
“We want a value that we can afford. When you look at the taxes, they’re getting out of control,” Farley said. “We believe that we have good representation in the school board, but we think that sometimes the questions aren’t getting asked.”
Armentrout ended his presentation by asking the board to talk with residents and encourage them to get involved with the dialogue around schools.
Armentrout’s group will meet again at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4, in the Select Board meeting room of the Rockport Opera House.
In other business, the board voted 4-1 to move forward with a plan to purchase a system for the town to accept credit card payments for town fees. Last year the Camden Snow Bowl absorbed $11,000 in credit card fees, according to Carol Sue Greenleaf, the town’s finance director. The town may be able to pass on credit card usage fees to users in the new system.
The board also conducted preliminary discussions about capital planning. The general town improvement plan puts the fiscal year 2011 budget at $517,118.
The town’s budget meetings will take place at 7 p.m. Thursdays, March 4, 11, 18, 25 and April 1 in the Washington Street Conference Room in Camden.