2017-05-11 / Front Page

Biddeford school budget clears major hurdle

Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD — The Biddeford City Council gave initial approval to a proposed $35.7 million school budget in a special meeting on Wednesday.

Following a poorly attended public hearing — during which no one spoke on the matter — the council unanimously approved the first reading of the Biddeford School Department’s proposed $35.6 million budget for Fiscal Year 2018, which begins on July 1.

City Councilors Stephen St. Cyr and Marc Lessard were excused.

If approved by residents in a municipal ballot in June, the proposed budget would add about $41,600 in local taxes, resulting in a 0.19 percent increase in the city’s mil rate. 

School officials say the increase is fair; in 2014, the school budget increased the tax rate by 0.5 percent. In 2015, the city saw a 2.65 increase in the mil rate, and a 0 percent increase last year.

The budget, just over a half million dollars more than last year’s budget, includes nearly $13.4 million for regular instruction and just under $6 million for special education. System administration will cost just over $1 million, and school administration just over $1.5 million.

The complete breakdown of the school budget includes:

  • Regular Instruction: $13,339,845
  • Special Education: $5,933,933
  • Career and Technical Education: $2,302,954
  • Other Instruction: $598,549
  • Student and Staff Support: $2,257,726
  • System Administration: $1,032,592
  • School Administration: $1,545,228
  • Transportation and Buses: $1,525,176
  • Facilities Maintenance: $3,182,706
  • Debt Service and Other Commitments: $3,919,282
  • All Other Expenditures: $11,999
  • Total School Budget: $35,649,990

The city will be responsible for raising about $18.5 million for the School Department’s contribution to the total cost of funding public education, as outlined in the Essential Programs and Services Act.

That contribution, per state statute, is the amount of money determined to be the minimum a municipality must raise in order for the School Department to receive full state funding. Biddeford’s EPS cost is estimated at $30.1 million.

Councilor John McCurry expressed concern over a new state-mandated provision within the budget that allows school departments to use any additionally subsidized money as they see fit, without first approaching the City Council.

School Superintendent Jeremy Ray said the provision was passed in the state Legislature so school boards didn’t have to go to a municipal board or public vote to use the additional money.

“I think the nice thing about it is, if you did have that issue that something happened that was unforeseen, you wouldn’t have to hold an extra election,” Ray said before the council, which acted as the Budget Committee prior to make a vote.

“I’ll support it for tonight because I know we can change it at the second reading,” McCurry said, adding that he’s “known to do that.”

“I’m willing to let this move forward at the time,” he said.

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or abennett@journaltribune.com.

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