2017-07-21 / In the Know

Educating youth a shared social responsibility

By Julie R. Kukenberger Special to the Leader

It’s no secret that year after year our community faces budgetary challenges. As your superintendent I am working hard to learn about our community and how to better balance all of our needs. To that end, I am committed to continuing to analyze our finances for efficiencies and opportunities for resource realignment in order to ensure we are getting the best return on our investments.

Like you, I truly believe that educating our youth is a shared social responsibility. Educational attainment such as students completing high school rather than dropping out and/or continuation on to postsecondary education, leads to substantial value for taxpayers over time.

Recognizing there are improvements to be made in the way we are communicating and engaging our community in the budget process, our first priority must be to come together as a community and support this school budget. Secondly, we must rethink the way we are communicating and gauging that balance between our needs and our ability to financially support our needs. This must be strategic, transparent and tactful.

Doing what is best for our students is the core function of my job. In order to do this I must ensure that we are maximizing the potential of each and every dollar invested in our school department. Please know that I am committed to developing school budgets that are fiscally responsible and innovative. This will be accomplished by continuing to work collaboratively with our school board, town council and leadership council to create a budget each year that is thoughtful and focused on increasing student outcomes while controlling our spending. It will also be important that we are able to present affordable tax rates.

One of the primary factors for the community to consider is the way the state is calculating the amount of state subsidy the school district receives. While one may argue that there are flaws within the current system, for the foreseeable future more of the education funding responsibility is being shifted to the local level in the form of tax increases. The fiscal year 2018 school department budget is a reflection of this reality. The 6.8 percent increase over last year’s fiscal year 2017 school budget is due to two key factors, a 2.88 percent increase in expenditures and a 17.42 percent decrease in non-tax revenue.

Collectively, the municipal and school budget leads to an estimated 2.99 percent tax rate increase.

Community members may also be interested to know that Scarborough spends less than neighboring communities on some key metrics.

For example:

• In fiscal year 2016 the Scarborough Public Schools (SPS) spent $353 to $1,843 less per pupil than our neighboring communities (RSU 21, Falmouth, Yarmouth, South Portland).

• In fiscal year 2016 Scarborough’s average beginning teacher salary (BA, 0 years experience) was $279 to $2,664 less than our neighboring communities (RSU 21, Falmouth, Yarmouth, South Portland).

• In fiscal year 2016 Scarborough’s per pupil administrative costs ($864 per pupil) are lower than the state average ($1,888 per pupil) and significantly lower than ten other neighboring communities ranging from $989-$1,192 per pupil.

Within the existing system we need to look beyond the current year budget and begin to generate multiyear budget projections that allow us to manage our priorities over time.

This thoughtful process will allow us to prioritize our needs and make incremental investments aligned with our community’s financial capacity.

From both a philosophical perspective and as a community member, I believe that the school department must collaborate with the town manager, town council and community members in order to ensure that all of our community needs are considered and balanced in our annual budget process (one town, one budget).

Indeed, I value and appreciate diverse community input as I feel this ensures that we are balancing the increasing demands of education today with our taxpayers’ ability to financially support essential educational needs as well as other community services.

My hope is that:

Together we can create a greater sense of community for all Scarborough residents.

Together we can commit to investing in our future by making incremental investments to our educational programing.

Together we can ensure that our students are well educated and prepared for a highly competitive local and global economy.

Together we can ensure that our students are developing skills and habits that will lead to lifelong health, happiness, and civic engagement.

Together we can create a stronger, brighter future.

Remember to vote on the school budget, Tuesday, July 25 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Scarborough Town Hall.

Early/absentee voting is available through July 20 during business hours at town hall.

Julie R. Kukenberger is superintendent of schools for Scarborough.

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