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3/27/2013 2:00:00 PM
GSB Wants Input On Growing Budget
By J.W. Oliver

Great Salt Bay Community School officials want the public to participate as they grapple with a sharp increase in the draft budget and cuts to federal and state revenue.

The $5.62 million draft 2013-2014 budget for Great Salt Bay Community School is almost $600,000 more than the 2012-2013 budget, an increase of 11.86 percent.

The towns of the Great Salt Bay Consolidated School District would all see significant increases in their share of the bill. Bremen would pay $72,464 more than last year, Damariscotta $436,066 more and Newcastle $192,763 more.

The Great Salt Bay School Committee will host a special workshop meeting Wednesday, March 27 at 6 p.m. in the school's gymnasium and invites the public to attend and bring suggestions.

"This year, we're challenged greatly to decide what is in the best interest of the kids and it's been incredibly emotional," school committee Chairwoman Jennifer MacDonald said at a March 21 meeting.

"My kids are here, [committee member] Sally [Farrell's] kids are here - we want to do what's right, but we also recognize 11 percent is not doable, whether it's the state's issue or not," MacDonald said.

The committee wants to hear from the community about what school programs and services people are passionate about and what they feel is most valuable, she said.

"I think that we've done a pretty good job so far with the things that we've looked at, to ask ourselves that question: What is the loss and what is the gain?" MacDonald said. "And the loss is really something we debate about."

Central Lincoln County School System Superintendent Steve Bailey presented the budget to about 30 people at the March 21 meeting in the GSB cafeteria.

District and school administrators, school committee members, parent-teacher organization leaders and representatives of Bremen, Damariscotta and Newcastle attended the meeting.

Increases in expenses for salaries and health insurance, special education students who attend school outside the district, certain system-wide expenses and new retirement expenses add up to about $380,000 in new, fixed costs for 2013-2014, according to Bailey.

The retirement budget totals $70,542, a new cost as a result of a proposal by Gov. Paul LePage to shift retirement expenses for administrators, teachers and educational technicians from the state to local taxpayers.

Decreases in federal and state funds and in the fund beginning balance - the money the district expects to have left over at the end of the year - also contribute to more reliance on local property tax revenues.

An 11.86 percent increase would far exceed the rate of annual budget growth from fiscal years 2008-2013.

The fiscal year 2008 budget was $4.62 million, shrank by 3 percent in 2009, then grew by relatively small intervals of 2.1 percent, 2.3 percent, 4.2 percent and 2.5 percent during the next four years.

"We are looking at every resource possible to protect and provide a similar level of service as is now in place - and the alternative is that we will have to reduce the level of service that we provide," Bailey said.

The increase in the budget and in the local share of the budget does not result from extravagant requests on the part of the school or the district, he said.

"The story here is the gap we are experiencing between reduced revenues, and the result of some new fixed costs and typical requests to meet the needs of the students, programs and building," he said. "There are needs to be met."

The school is trying to meet the needs of students and continue its mission and vision while being "fiscally responsible to our residents - this will involve some cuts to present programs and services," Bailey said.

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