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4/17/2013 2:00:00 PM
Great Salt Bay To Develop Budget Compromise
By J.W. Oliver


The Great Salt Bay School Committee continues to try to shape a 2013-2014 budget to provide for the needs of students and alleviate taxpayer concerns.

The most recent of three versions of the 2013-2014 Great Salt Bay Community School budget goes too far in an attempt to accomplish the latter with layoffs and cuts to important programs, parents and staff members said at an April 10 meeting in the school cafeteria.

The school committee, after the April 10 meeting, decided to develop at least one more version of the budget, a compromise between two previous figures.

The Central Lincoln County School System and the school committee began with a nearly $600,000 or 11.86 percent increase in the first draft of the 2013-2014 budget.

The school system and the committee presented a revised budget with a 5.71 percent increase at a March 27 public workshop.

The third version of the budget, which includes a relatively minimal 0.45 percent increase, was presented at the April 10 meeting.

The budget would eliminate several full-time and part-time positions, reduce the hours of other positions and bring some programs to an end, including the gifted and talented program and programs at Chewonki and Kieve.

"I think this [0.45 percent] goal is dramatic and drastic," said Rebecca Tilden, a Great Salt Bay parent.

"It's not '0.5 gifted and talented,'" Tilden said, in reference to a slide outlining the cuts in the new budget proposal. "It's Alison. She's losing her job."

Enrichment Specialist Alison Macmillan, a 15-year faculty veteran who runs the gifted and talented program, would lose her job as a result of the proposal.

"This is too extreme," Tilden said.

The gifted and talented program and Great Salt Bay's strong music program attract families to the area and draw students from towns with school choice, especially Alna, parents said.

The young families who move to the area provide a boost to the economy, and the tuition from non-residents helps pay for the school budget, they said.

"We chose to come here and now we choose to spend our money here. We spend a lot of money here," said Alna resident and Great Salt Bay parent Ed Thelander. "We used to donate a lot of money in Wiscasset. Now we donate it here."

Newcastle resident and parent Garrett Martin said concerns about Gov. Paul LePage's biennial state budget proposal, which would cut funding to towns, end popular property tax exemptions and transfer state expenses to towns, contribute to the concerns of local taxpayers.

The taxpayers with concerns about those things need to talk to state officials, Martin said. "We shouldn't let those decisions drive this process that potentially rips the heart out of what makes this a robust and vibrant place that has great economic benefit," he said.

Newcastle resident Joel Lind said he was born and raised in Bremen and moved back to the area because of the quality of education at Great Salt Bay.

Lind said he attended Bremen Grade School. Bremen began cutting education spending because of budget concerns, families moved away and the school closed, he said.

"It was a vibrant school, it was a community school, it was a beautiful thing," Lind said. "It had all the flavor of a town and that's gone. It's gone forever."

Lind said he fears some programs at Great Salt Bay could meet the same fate. "Once some of these things are gone, they're gone," he said.

"When you cut these programs, you take away these opportunities and you provide my child with the same treatment I got, and I came back to this area because things had changed," Lind said.

Bremen resident and parent Stacie Crocetti raised more than $20,000 to replace the gymnasium sound system in 2011.

Now, cuts to the music program would be "a slap in the face" to her and "all the people who contributed above and beyond their tax dollars" to complete the project, she said.

Crocetti also talked about a residential program for sixth-graders at Chewonki, a campground and environmental education center in Wiscasset. GSB students have been attending the camp for at least 20 years, she said.

"It was the most meaningful experience of [my son's] whole GSB experience," Crocetti said, and she wants it to be there for her other children and for all GSB students.

She volunteered to raise most of the money for the program if the committee leaves at least some funding in the budget.

"I really, really, really beg this board - $1000, $2000, $5000 - whatever you can do to fund just the residential program of Chewonki," Crocetti said.

"I promise you I will find the money if I can," she said. "I was successful with the sound system and I can't imagine I won't be with this, because people are passionate - passionate! - about Chewonki."

District 51 Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, was one of the last to speak on the budget.

"My sons went to GSB," Devin said. "They benefited from the music program. They benefited from Alison."

He said he expects the Legislature and the governor to reach a compromise on the state budget. "It'll be in the center somewhere," he said. "I don't know where that is, but it's not going to be as grim as what was initially proposed."

He turned to the school committee to deliver his final remarks.

"I believe you should take a step back and not consider GSB as a business," Devin said. "What GSB is, is an investment in the future."

The parents and most of the people present at the meeting departed shortly thereafter, while the school committee discussed the next step with the administration.

Great Salt Bay Principal Jeff Boston said he has witnessed the negative effect of education cuts in Augusta, where he lives and where his children attend school.

"I would hope that the [5.71 percent increase] would be the area the community would support," Boston said. "I don't think we should go any further."

Superintendent Steve Bailey said GSB has the lowest cost per pupil among the five schools in the Central Lincoln County School System, although it is still about $1000 higher than the state average.

Taxpayers receive an excellent value for their money, he said, referencing the 2011 selection of GSB as an efficient, high-performing school by a group of University of Maine education researchers.

"The question is, how can we make sure that continues to happen?" Bailey said.

Carole Brinkler, a Newcastle representative to the school committee, said for every speaker passionate about maintaining school programs, there is someone who has called her to say they support cuts due to property tax concerns.

"We have to consider both of these things and come in with a number that will be supported by both," said Bremen representative Bill Thomas.

The committee voted 5-1 to support Thomas' recommendation to task the finance subcommittee with developing another budget proposal with a 3 percent increase. The school committee will review this fourth proposal at a special meeting Monday, April 29 at 6 p.m.

The school committee will likely decide to reinstate some programs and eventually approve a fifth proposal with an increase between 3 and 4 percent, Thomas said.

"I think if we did that, we would have the support of the vast majority of people here," he said.

The school committee has to approve a budget to present to the annual meeting of the Great Salt Bay Consolidated School District in mid-May, Bailey said.

Any increase in the budget will disproportionately affect Damariscotta taxpayers because Damariscotta's share of enrollment continues to grow. Damariscotta will pay 48.35 percent of the local share of the budget in 2013-2014, while Newcastle will pay 38.31 percent and Bremen 13.34 percent.

School officials say the local share of the budget will grow by more than the overall increase in the budget due to reductions in federal and state funds and in the balance the school expects to carry into next year.



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