2016-05-06 / Front Page

Next year is here – for school officials

Board sends budget to town council; final reading scheduled for May 18
By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

The Scarborough Board of Education last week passed a $45.8 million operating budget for the 2016-2017 school year, close to 87 percent of which will be funded through tax dollars.

The second reading, held Thursday, April 28, yielded only one amendment – shifting $67,399 from the salary/wages account to the benefits account – from what was presented by Superintendent George Entwistle on April 1 and garnered no input from residents.

From there the budget will be reviewed by the town council, which is scheduled to adopt an overall town budget on Wednesday, May 18. A public hearing on the budget was scheduled for Wednesday, May 4, after the Leader’s deadline.

Voters will approve or reject the budget in a budget validation vote Tuesday, June 14. Due to $6.1 million in revenues – including nearly $1.6 million in unused Wentworth School construction funds, which make up for a similar amount in lost aid from the state – the tax request to the town is $39.7 million, a $2 million or 5.5 percent increase over current year.

Back in April Entwistle said the proposed budget is not a “pie in the sky budget” but rather a “mission critical budget” that helps prepare students for college or career and continue the educational improvements made over the years.

“It represents the resources, or mission critical elements, needed to achieve those goals,” Entwistle said at the time.

Finance Committee Chairman Jodi Shea said since the budget was unveiled early last month, the finance committee has heard from residents who were concerned and wanted to see the restoration of seventh-grade sports, something that was eliminated in 2014 for budget reasons, and reintroduction of foreign language at Wentworth School, a previous offering that was cut several years ago.

An additional $50,000 has been requested in the athletics/ activities budget from program restoration as part of an overall $590,000 education improvement plan.

“As a committee, we have identified restoration of seventh grade sports as top priority of that money,” Shea said.

The education improvement plan will also provide funding to improve the course offerings, and guidance services at the high school; adding an academic support coach at the middle school; advancement of the science and technology instruction at Wentworth School; continued implementation of English language arts curriculum, support for students with behavioral challenges and advancement of classroom technology at the primary schools. The plan also includes enhancement of middle school and high school study skills for the special services department, as well as district-wide improvement, including additional professional learning through the funding of an extra staff work day, enhanced technical data support and modernization of health service case management.

Board member Jackie Perry said one piece she would have liked to see in the budget that wasn’t is greater drug awareness at Wentworth School.

“It’s affecting everybody,” Perry said of the heroin and opiate epidemic in Maine. “The sooner we can have our children aware of it and stop it, the better off we will be as a community.”

It is a need Scarborough Police Chief Robbie Moulton sees as well. Moulton has unsuccessfully tried to get funding for a student resource officer at the school. He re-emphasized that point last month when he told members of the town finance committee he needed additional police officers to tackle crime in the community and get into the schools to teach safety to the younger students.

Entwistle told the board the district does offer D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) and there is “drug education throughout the grades, starting at Wentworth.”

“What Ms. Perry is getting at is our efforts need to be intensified to address the issue,” Entwistle said. “I agree with that.”

There are plans to add a substance abuse counselor next school year, a position Board Chairman Donna Beeley said she would like to see sooner.

“That prevention piece is very important for middle and high school. I am disappointed that piece is not in there,” she said.

The board also approved a $525,375 capital equipment budget for the schools that would fund several new vehicles, including three new school buses ($315,000), a box truck for the facilities department ($37,000), as well as money to replace furniture at the middle and primary schools ($50,000), new commercial dishwasher and oven at the high school ($38,375), updated acoustic shells in the high school auditorium ($10,000), a commercial grade floor cleaning machine ($15,000) and a high jump mat /batting cages at the athletic fields behind the high school ($50,000).

The $855,455 capital improvement budget that was approved included funding for masonry work, window replacement and siding repair throughout the district ($125,000); energy efficiency upgrades in the high school auditorium ($60,000), schoolwide carpet replacement and floor repair ($20,000) and high school science lab retrofit ($50,000), as well as paving upgrades, new fencing at the baseball and softball fields, HVAC repairs at the middle and primary schools and roof restoration at Scarborough Middle School and Blue Point Primary School (total of $349,500). Additionally the plan includes $194,275 for a technology refresh in the primary schools.

Board of Education members also OK’d a $1.4 million school nutrition budget. The budget is largely funded through a federal/state food service subsidy and revenue from food sales at breakfast, lunch and other times during the school day.

This school year is the first year that the school nutrition program has been run in collaboration with Cape Elizabeth. Cape Elizabeth School Department Nutrition Director Peter Esposito was hired to run Scarborough’s program.

Entwistle said that arrangement will hopefully continue next school year as well.

“We intend to extend that. We are in that process right now,” he said.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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