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Superintendent asks state lawmakers to reject LePage’s budget

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
The State House in Augusta, as seen Monday, March 11, 2013.
By Christina Higginbotham, Foster's Daily Democrat

NORTH BERWICK, Maine — SAD 60 Superintendent Steven Connolly implored state lawmakers in a letter dated March 19 to prevent the further downshifting of educational funding to local taxpayers by denying Gov. Paul LePage’s biennial budget for 2014-15 as proposed.

In the letter, Connolly states the impact of the budget as proposed would only further burden taxpayers in his district.

Connolly said he witnessed significant increases in the district’s local taxes last year in an effort to offset reductions in federal and state financial support for education.

“That district budget passed by a mere 54 votes last spring and one of the three communities rejected the budget. The MSAD 60 board of directors are rightly concerned the new proposed costs pushed back upon our citizens will have a devastating impact,” he states in the letter.

Recently, SAD 60 cut nine school staffers and one secretarial position. Additionally, the district will be laying off one teacher and cutting an administrator position to help offset a $184,800 shortfall this year. Steps the district has taken to relieve costs included: freezing almost all professional development, approval of a furlough day by unions, reduced support staff hours, eliminated intramural sports, implemented a hiring freeze and consolidated positions with SAD 35.

Connolly said for the year 2013-2014, SAD 60 must ensure communities that property taxes will not increase significantly for a second year in a row.

“I pledged to bring forward a budget representing between zero and two percent increase. In a district with 52 percent free and reduced lunch, and with one of the three communities experiencing a jump of 71 additional property liens in the last twelve months, anything beyond a 2 percent increase would be unconscionable and would likely be defeated during public vote,” Connolly’s statement reads.

Connolly says he questions the logic of LePage’s promotion of a 50 percent retirement split, which would come at another $475,154 loss to SAD 60 taxpayers.

“Post curtailment costs, combined with teacher retirement, increased insurance rates, skyrocketing out of district costs for special needs students, and fixed costs means the 2014 budget projection must offset close to $2,000,000,” Connolly’s statement reads.

Connolly’s colleague David Theoharides, superintendent for the Sanford School Department, shared similar thoughts with legislators about the Sanford area.

“Not in my 36 years in public education in Maine as a teacher, school principal and superintendent of schools have the financial burdens from all aspects of federal, state and local school operations existed with such enormity,” Theoharides said.

While the Feb. 22 preliminary General Purpose Aid spreadsheet identifies SAD 60 as one of the “lucky” districts, Connolly said local residents do not feel lucky to have the need for an increase in general purpose aid.

“Please help us move closer to the 55 percent funding approved by Maine voters,” Connolly said.

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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