2016-03-18 / Front Page

City school budget up 3.7 percent

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — The city’s new superintendent of schools, Ken Kunin, unveiled his first budget Monday, cracking the books on a spending package that jumps 3.7 percent, to $47.8 million for the 2016-2017 school year.

However, the portion of the budget covered by local tax bills, $40.3 million, is only up 2.7 percent, meeting a council goal to limbo under a 3 percent line.

If adopted by the school board and city council as proposed, and then validated by voters in June, the new budget would add 32 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to local property tax bills. That’s good for an extra $62 for the year on the median single-family home, assessed at $200,000.

Working in the favor of local taxpayers is an anticipated $7.3 million subsidy from the state, about $609,000 more than initially expected, thanks to a $15 million “tax conformity” bill adopted by the state Legislature this past week.

Kunin also calls on appropriating $500,000 from the school department’s undesignated surplus fund, to help offset taxes.

On the spending side, staffers will enjoy about $1 million in combined raises and benefit increases.

New costs include three teachers and five education techs added to the payroll due to enrollment increases among both kindergarten and special education students.

Kunin’s budget also calls on adding 10 coaches with stipends totaling nearly $37,000 — augmenting girls and boys basketball teams at the middle schools, as well as volleyball, soccer, hockey and cheering teams at the high school.

At least $30,000 of the new stipends is expected to be covered by a new program narrowly approved by the school board last month to begin selling advertising in and around the school’s sporting complex.

The new budget also calls on buying a new school bus at $88,000, adding an extra $101,000 to building maintenance schedules, and spending $151,000 on new technology, Kunin said.

The school board will conduct budget workshops on March 22, 24, 29 and 31. The meetings will begin at 6 p.m. in the lecture hall at South Portland High School.

According to school board Chairman Dick Matthews, the coaching stipend line item will be taken up at the first workshop, on March 22. That session, at least, could generate some debate among school board members, who posed no questions at Monday’s budget presentation.

“This is a responsible budget. It’s looking out for students, teachers and taxpayers,” Matthews said. “But I’m going to be scrutinizing it. I have a couple things I have questions about.”

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