PITTSFIELD, Maine — The school budget for the 2014-’15 fiscal year, teacher union negotiations and art in the community were the top three topics at the school board meeting on Monday at the Warsaw School library.
The good news is that halfway into the fiscal year, the district has spent $4,982,000, just under half of its operating budget of $10,326,228. Yet Superintendent Dominic DePatsy has imposed a spending freeze due to a $200,000 shortfall. This shortfall is the result of increased tuition costs at Maine Central Institute and a state funding shift of retirement benefits onto schools statewide.
Because MCI is considered a semi-private school, one of 11 in the state, the Department of Education sets the tuition rate. The rate is determined in December, six months after the district determines its budget. While the district’s 2013-’14 budget anticipated a 1 percent increase in cost, it was actually 3.7 percent higher.
Having to fund more of the teachers’ retirement benefits also placed additional financial burden on SAD 53. At budget time last year, it was unclear whether the state or the schools would pay the retirement benefits for semi-private schools. According to DePatsy, although the state paid the lion’s share of the $90,000, $10,000 was shifted onto the district. These unanticipated shortfalls necessitated a spending freeze to come within budget.
The budget committee, chaired by Kelley Carter, is in the midst of creating a new budget. Nothing is set in stone yet, warned DePatsy, but preliminary numbers, along with the MCI tuition and retirement pension shortfalls, are pointing toward a 6 percent increase. This budget will be voted on by district referendum in June.
The negotiations with the teachers union will begin on Tuesday. Barbara Basford, chair of the negotiating committee, doesn’t anticipate any problems. “We all get along fairly well. There aren’t any surprises that I’ve heard about,” she said.
Artwork by district students is on display at Bud’s Shop ’n Save in Pittsfield. The mural was produced by students in the extracurricular Art Enrichment program. Alyssa Ardry, a third-grader, explained the process of designing and producing the still life painting that hangs above the shopping carts in the supermarket’s entry. Ardy described the process as “awesome.” The students arranged real food, including fruit, sausage and a gallon of milk, on a table.
Perspective, color and shading were considered before a final arrangement was agreed upon. Then they photographed the table, projected it onto a canvas and drew it. Ardry said that the manager of Bud’s had called the school and asked for artwork. When he learned it was to be done by third- and fourth-graders, he was skeptical. But everyone was pleased with the result.
The SAD 53 district includes Burnham, Detroit and Pittsfield.