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Lamoine Budget Committee

Minutes of June 19, 2008 - (Draft, subject to revision)

Chairman Henry Ashmore called the meeting to order at 7:00 PM

Present were: Budget Committee members Reginald McDevitt, Hubene Brodie, Joseph Young Jr., Henry Ashmore, Robin Veysey; Administrative Assistant Stu Marckoon, Union 92 Superintendent Jim Boothby, Ellsworth American Reporter Carol Walsh, Selectman Cynthia Donaldson, School Committee members Christina Maguire-Harding, Kathleen Rybarz, Nancy Sargent, Robert Pulver, members of the public Leah Treadwell and Patricia Wyshak.

The meeting was televised on Lamoine CTV and recorded onto DVD.

School Budget – School Committee chair Christina Maguire-Harding said the school committee brainstormed at previous community meetings. She said the previous $2.3 million dollar budget was adopted by the town meeting but the validation referendum failed. She said they're back to the process of evaluating the budget. She said there will be some savings through the transportation contract. She said they got some ideas of where the public stood through interchanges such as the meeting the previous Monday evening. She said there was a healthy exchange of information at the meeting and on the written evaluations. She said there has been a lot of e-mail generated and requests made of the school committee.

Henry asked how many attended the meeting on Monday. Mrs. Maguire-Harding said between 75 and 100. She said there were exchanges from both sides, but more from the education side. She said there was some dissension and some parents feel some bullying is going on. She said some have expressed that if the next budget is presented with cuts, they will vote against it. She said the school committee is starting to become paralyzed. She said the committee cannot spend the next 5-months doing the budget process over and over.

Mrs. Maguire-Harding said in the $2.3 million dollar budget the music position and the principal's position were moved to 4-days a week, library and nursing were cut back to 1-day per week. She said part of the exercise was to look at the local appropriation and the mill rate in relation to each cut. She said when the cuts were outlined; the savings on the average tax burden was about $4/year. She said they wanted a sense of what the community though. She said the school committee got rid of its entire $185,000 in balance forward, and in retrospect they shouldn't have done that. She said that loss equals approximately 0.78 mills. She said the loss of approximately $250,000 in General Purpose Aid (GPA/EPS) accounts for another 1.06 mills. She said with the increase in the school budget, the town is looking at a mill rate increase of 2.34 mills. She said that doesn't sound like a lot, but since a mill raises $237,000, that is a lot.

Mrs. Maguire-Harding said having a school in a community does not cause land values to increase. She said increasing land values does cause State GPA/EPS aid to go down. She said that land values affect how the budget has to be handled.

She said they've thrown out a lot of ideas and are getting lots of feedback. She said co-curricular activities such as the Camp Kieve trip could be eliminated (saving $4,010). She said the school committee doesn't know where else to go. She said they've cut the principal's position and the music positions. She said the school committee is being asked to take an asset (the children) and figure out where they fit in the tax burden.

Mrs. Maguire-Harding said she is proposing that phys-ed be cut back 1-day per week to a .8 FTE position, saving $7,026.80; co-curricular be cut back saving $4,010, and transportation be reduced by $3,000 to reflect contract savings. She said everything else proposed before would also remain as proposed. She said this cut would save just over $14,000 in addition to that cut from the budget rejected at validation.

Hubene noted that a teaching position saving $20,000 had been up for discussion at the Monday meeting. Mrs. Maguire-Harding said that was a point of discussion, and combined classes were not something the school board felt the school could handle.

Henry asked about the pre-K to 2 targeted funds. Superintendent Boothby said it's a mandatory state category and they can shift some state money into that to get a higher reimbursement. There was a discussion about why those were called targeted funds. Henry said it was an eyebrow raiser. Mr. Boothby said there is no proposal to start a Pre-K program.

Cynthia Donaldson said she missed the meeting on Monday. She asked if it was correct that there is a surcharge for students to attend MDI High School , and if so, could the town say “no” to the deal. Mr. Boothby said there is a 10% surcharge and if the town said no, it would be in violation of the contract the town has with the school through 2010. A short discussion followed in regard to the tuition agreement with MDI High School . Mrs. Donaldson suggested asking Ellsworth and MDI for help, as the little kids will have no money for their programs.

Joe Young asked where the school department would be a year down the road with the balance forward. Mrs. Maguire-Harding said it's really the town's reserve. She said with the budget cut close to the bone, there's not likely to be much balance forward. She said the school board would continue to look at any savings to reach a balance forward.

Mr. Boothby said Medicare money is rolled into the balance forward, and they don't budget for that. Henry asked about special education flow through money. Mr. Boothby said that has been exhausted. Henry asked about the various Title funds. Mr. Boothby said positions are being funded with those.

Hubene said the school committee didn't take a janitor out of the budget. Mrs. Maguire-Harding said with the extra-curricular part of the budget and cleaning for events at the school, the position is needed, but they will look at it, and it was discussed. She said the committee also discussed revenue enhancements, such as a charge for cleaning the building when it's used by outside groups.

Hubene said some classes have only 9-children. She said she would prefer to combine classes to cutting extra curricular programs. Mrs. Maguire-Harding said the school committee is not proposing to cut the extra curricular programs. The school committee briefly studied the class census figures and discussed the possibility of combining grades. Mr. Boothby said the school committee also looked at the numbers, and it is not educationally recommended. Henry said it would be nicer to see 15 children in a class instead of 11. Mr. Boothby said there needs to be smaller class sizes in order to combine, and any combination would require Ed Tech support. A short discussion followed on whether Ed Tech support would actually be needed.

Mrs. Maguire-Harding said they got feedback from Lamoine residents about combined classrooms. She said they heard it was the worst experience that could happen in preparation for High School. She said those in combined classrooms had to take remedial English and Math upon entry to High School. She said the school board could not support combined classes. She said they don't have time to get teachers trained to do it properly.

School Committee member Nancy Sargent noted that the budget does not include professional development money. Mr. Boothby said his pervious experience has showed that performance is not as high with combined classes. He said he recommended that the school committee not do that, and that it is difficult to manage. Hubene said it was not a proposal to do it forever, just to get over the hump. Mr. Boothby said it would affect those children for those couple of years it would happen.

Henry said last year $160,000 was used to reduce taxes. He said if the town had not done that, taxes would have gone up. He said they're looking at a flat spot on the tax rate chart for the past few years, then a peak. He asked if purchased property services were for grounds. Mr. Boothby said not entirely. Henry asked if a huge portion of that was for mowing and fertilizing. He suggested the school board could eliminate that from the budget. He said the custodian should do the mowing instead of hiring someone. He said the ballfield does not need to be fertilized. Mr. Boothby said $2,500 is budgeted for mowing, and $5,900 for week control. He said the ballfield would still need to be fertilized. Henry said he wanted to cut the budget. Mrs. Maguire-Harding asked what his solution would be. Henry said it could go to weeds, but it should be mowed. He said it's a luxury that he's not sure the town could support. School committee member Bob Pulver said a lot of maintenance is being done in the summer. Mr. Boothby said this is a year-round line, and they generally mow the fields until the first of November. A short discussion followed on what the janitor duties would be during the summer renovation project, and who mows the lawns.

Henry said the process from here involves another town meeting where people can lower the budget. Stu noted the town meeting could also raise it. There was a brief discussion about the 11-required articles. Henry asked what the school committee is proposing to take to open town meeting. He asked if it was a reduction of $14,000 from the original $2.3 million dollar budget. Mrs. Maguire-Harding said it was.

School Committee member Kathleen Rybarz says the school committee doesn't have a consensus. She said the proposed cuts are pennies off the tax rate, and she does not support the cuts being proposed. Hubene said she'd tried to volunteer at the school before, but was never called in to help. A short discussion followed in regard to volunteering.

Mr. Pulver said he agreed with Mrs. Maguire-Harding that anything beyond what has been proposed to be cut is too far. Mrs. Sargent said there is no value to the proposed cuts, and it doesn't help education. She said she only favors the $3,000 reduction in the transportation line. Mr. Boothby said the 5 th member of the school committee who is not present supports what Mrs. Maguire-Harding has presented.

Henry asked what makes the school committee think the same budget will pass at referendum. Dr. Patricia Wyshak said there was a tremendous amount of ignorance the last time. She said people didn't know their vote counted. Mrs. Maguire-Harding said she agreed there was a lot of confusion. She said people though they were voting on a consolidation plan. She said the City of Ellsworth had fewer voters turn out for their validation vote than Lamoine did. She said education is needed. Mrs. Sargent said the discussion helps to clarify the vision for education in regard to the budget. She said the whole discussion has been outstanding. Henry said it will be interesting to see how things go this time around. Mrs. Sargent said it's important to put kids first. She said she needed to put her foot down. Ms. Rybarz asked what a $14,000 cut would save the average household. Stu said a $14,000 cut would not likely affect the mill rate. Henry said the perception of the increase will affect a lot. He said the school has a tremendous public relations problem. He said to take the same budget back to the voters again is a bit of an insult to those who voted against it. Ms. Rybarz said removing the gym teacher one day a week is also an insult. She said she questioned whether having a nurse one day a week is wise. She asked what to tell a student that they can't go to a jazz band competition. She said the school committee doesn't know what will happen when the principal is not there.

Henry said the role of the school committee is exactly what Ms. Rybarz was professing. He said it the community says “No”, they have to deal with that. Ms. Rybarz said the school board would explain their positions in a letter. She said she believed that some people voted “no” last time because they didn't like the cuts that were proposed. Mrs. Sargent said parents have told her they would vote “no” if more cuts were made. Henry noted that in one town, a box was included on the ballot to indicate whether the voters wanted a higher or lower budget.

Mrs. Sargent said people believe if the school is closed it would cost the town less. Mrs. Maguire-Harding said that was a fallacy. Mrs. Sargent said tuition would be about equal to keeping the school open. Dr. Wyshak said misinformation was put into the letter circulated prior to voting. She said the language on the state ballot is confusing. Henry said he agreed that the ballot language was confusing. He said it could lead one to believe that they are adding to what the town meeting already approved. Dr. Wyshak said she hoped people would be more educated this time. Mr. Ashmore said he's concerned about what happens at the town meeting.

Hubene asked what happens if there is no budget by July 1 st . Stu said the last budget proposed by the town meeting would be that which the tax commitment is based upon

Mrs. Sargent asked if the circuit breaker program was still in effect. Stu said as far as he knows it is. Robin said that's based on the relationship of income to the property tax bill. A short discussion followed.

Henry asked how much over EPS the budget it. Mr. Boothby looked for the previous town meeting warrant and answered $581,015.43.

Joe said it's unfortunate the municipal and school budgets were not considered at the same time. He asked how the budget committee could make a major impact on the proposed tax increase. He asked if the budget committee could go back to see if cuts could be made on the regular municipal budget. He said there was a cut in LD-1 in previous years. He said ditching, for example, could be de-funded.

Stu explained the Selectmen would have to put that in a town meeting article. He said surplus could also be utilized. Joe said that could make some major inroads. He said if people don't understand the budget, they will vote “no”. Hubene asked if the Selectmen could look at warrant articles for the municipal side of the budget. Stu said he could propose that to them. A short discussion followed on the ditching program.

Cynthia said the possible cuts to the municipal budget were good suggestions, and she would be willing to do that. She said the trouble is that this is an immediate need in the net year. She said it's not a one year thing. She said any cut or surplus use gets made up in the next budget. Mrs. Maguire-Harding said they're taking a $185,000 hit now. She said the town enjoyed that with lower taxes this year. She said that created a big blip, but some of that should smooth out. She said the growth in town valuation is not going to help state revenues. There was a brief discussion on consolidation and town meeting timing.

Mr. Boothby said the revenue side of the budget is beyond the school board's control. Joe said it would have been more considerate of the state to gradually reduce GPA/EPS instead of cut it 58% in one year. Mrs. Maguire-Harding said a majority of the speakers on Monday said it was a state issue. She said the school committee is just trying to figure out how to get an operating budget. Henry said the taxpayers are looking to temper the increase in property tax.

Henry said the original $2.3 million dollar budget is a 7.3% increase. Mrs. Maguire-Harding said a majority of that was for fuel, tuition, and special education. Reggie said everyone wants the best education possible. He said what hits him the hardest is $6,000 to keep the ballfield in perfect condition. He said he though other places could be cut a little here and there. He said older people are concerned about the mill rate. He said people must pay their taxes or someone will take the property. He said he thinks the school board has done the best it could do. He said town meetings cost money to hold, and that's spending good money after bad. Hubene said she agreed with Reggie.

Robin asked if there were any estimates pursued from other lawn care services. Mr. Boothby said it's a bid process. He said he wasn't sure what kind of response there was to the mowing and maintenance bids. Mrs. Maguire-Harding said they could take a look at that issue.

Hubene asked what else was in the co-curricular line. Mrs. Maguire-Harding said it included field trips, honors courses, and trips to the Grand Auditorium. She said the line basically covers the Grand and Camp Kieve . She said the cut would seriously restrict activities for the students. Robin said she'd like to see money for the music honors festivals.

Henry asked if $10,600 was for the MWEA test. Mr. Boothby said that was the lion's share of the line Henry asked about. Mrs. Sargent said they get better information from that test than the MEA testing.

Henry asked if the extra curricular supplies include new uniforms. Mrs. Maguire-Harding said there were no new uniforms. She said the cheering team raised their own money for their uniforms last year. She said some uniforms get worn out and need to be replaced.

Dr. Wyshak said with the obesity epidemic, it sickened her to think that phys Ed would be cut. Henry said people should not depend on 40-minutes of phys Ed a week to solve the obesity related problems.

Joe said the School Committee had done an excellent job and had a hard year. He said it's now time to go back and see what can be done on the municipal side. Robin said she agreed. She said she would like to revisit some of the things added on to soften the property tax blow. She said the state funding situation will not get any better. She said she was not comfortable with a lot of the proposed cuts. She said the school budget cannot be decreased enough to make up for what the state has taken away. Mrs. Sargent said they're looking at ways to bring in extra revenues. Stu asked if she had any specifics.

Mr. Boothby said typically the way the school committee had gone through the budget process was to meet and adopt a budget then look for support from the Budget Committee. He said they would meet next Tuesday and asked if the Budget Committee would meet after next Tuesday. Henry said no. He said he was prepared to say to the school committee that he would support the budget they bring and let the citizens have at it. Robin said she agreed.

Henry said he has immense sympathy for the work the school committee had to do. He said he's glad the committee is willing to talk it out. Reggie said the state has put every town in turmoil. He said the municipal budget is looked at long before the school budget. He said it was ridiculous to think about sending Lamoine kids to another town. He said people move to Lamoine every day. He said they have to look that there is a bill to pay here too. He said the town has to live through this dilemma the best it can. He said he didn't vote for some of the things in the municipal budget because he felt they were not necessary.

Henry asked Reggie if he was in the position of supporting the school committee. Reggie said the school committee could look at more things. Henry said they need to go back and decide which cuts are to be made. Joe said he would support the school board on their proposal. He said the school committee has proposed cuts, and he feels bad about the cutbacks. He said there are other things the town could do. He said they are tough cuts that short change the school system. He said it was time to put the entire town budget together to see what the town could do.

Hubene said she can't support the school committee because she doesn't yet know what they will propose. She said she tried to tell everyone at town meeting about how much they'd raised thus far. Mrs. Maguire-Harding said it's been a confusing year. She said she thinks people care about the school budget.

Robin said she could support what the school committee comes up with. She said she trusted their judgment. Henry said he thinks he could support the school committee if they come in with a lower budget. He said he couldn't support them if they bring back the same budget. He suggested taking the $5,900 for fertilizing the ballfields out of the budget. He said that could put back an extra day for phys Ed. He said he didn't think the committee needed to meet again. He said it looks by his count 4-to-1 support for the school committee. He noted that town meeting is July 9 th at the fire station, with the validation to follow on the 15 th .

Stu said he would like some guidance on what to propose to the Selectmen in regard to the municipal budget. He said another $1,000 would be needed from undesignated fund balance for the current fiscal year for the public safety budget. Discussion regarding where to cut included from the ditching fund and from using surplus.

Cynthia noted there was discussion of a twice per year property tax bill.

Henry suggested the committee could recommend to the Selectmen that the town re-look at the $60,000 approved for a road improvements fund and that $27,000 be used from surplus to offset taxes from the municipal side. Joe so moved, Reggie 2nd . Vote in favor was 5-0.

Robin moved to recommend that the Budget Committee be in agreement with the school committee on what they present for a final budget figure. Joe 2nd . Hubene said it would be hard to vote not knowing if the town meeting will approve the cuts on the municipal side. Vote was 2-2 (Brodie, McDevitt opposed, Ashmore abstained). Stu said he understands that would mean that no recommendation would appear from the Budget Committee on the warrant. Henry asked when the school board plans to meet. Mrs. Maguire-Harding said on June 24. Robin asked if the Budget Committee should attend the next Selectmen's meeting.

Reggie asked if another motion could be made. Hubene said she didn't know what budget the school committee would present. Mrs. Maguire-Harding said a majority of the school committee agrees with her presentation, and they would look at lawn care. Stu noted that $14,000 would have no impact on the mill rate. Henry said the perception is important.

Robin said from what she's heard with the majority of the school committee favoring the cuts, the chances are the budget to be present to town meeting would be lower. Joe said it might be flat – the proposal is a $2.95 million dollar budget. Henry said he has no problem meeting with the Selectmen next Thursday (June 26 th ). He said by then it will be known what the school committee did.

There being no further business, the meeting adjourned at 8:53 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Stu Marckoon, Secretary