Doing more with less and finding creative ways to fund education are repeated themes as departments across the Windham-Raymond School District have begun reporting their fiscal year 2014 budgets to the Board of Directors.
The district’s $39.8 million proposed fiscal year 2014 budget contains a small increase over the previous year’s budget and officials are focusing on the value of education the district provides community students without asking for much more taxpayer money.
The board heard from the Regional Education Alternative Learning (REAL) School and the transportation, adult education and facilities departments at its first cost-center workshop Wednesday, March 20.
Board Chairman Catriona Sangster called the proposal responsible, saying of the administration, “They really were trying to present a reasonable budget within each of the cost centers to see how they could put forward a budget that didn’t decimate instruction and affect kids directly.”
She said the district is doing its due diligence to keep costs within reason.
Board Vice Chairman Marge Govoni said cuts still sting. Taking much more funding away will hurt schools, she said.
The board held a second cost-center workshop Wednesday, March 27 and has one scheduled to begin at 8 a.m., Saturday, March 30, in the Windham council chambers.
REAL School presentation
REAL School Principal Pender Makin opened the workshop session, saying “We are asking for not one penny more than we asked the district for last year, or the year before.” RSU 14’s share of the school’s budget is $292,000 to provide services for 17 children.
“For the past nine years, we have never used the entire allocation the district has contributed,” she said. Instead, the REAL School uses about half the money it gets from RSU 14, she said, while serving a greater number of students than it is contracted to work with. The facility has always taken about 20 students, but this year, Makin said, 26 Windham-Raymond students are enrolled.
The REAL School receives the rest of its funding through tuition and transportation from sending districts, as well as through donations, grants and fundraisers, Makin said. The school raises revenue by sending REAL School staff to educate teachers in other districts, she said.
Enrollment can vary based, in part, on whether sending districts want to serve their students’ needs in-house, but Makin said administration is able to make reasonable guesses of the number of pupils it will have and the amount of money it will need.
“Nine years in a row out of 10, we have far exceeded in revenue what we need to meet our needs,” she told board members. Assistant Superintendent Donn Davis said allocation money the REAL School does not use is returned to the district’s undesignated funds balance.
Makin said the school is looking to hire an additional driver to accommodate a student who has moved; currently, other staff, part-time drivers and substitutes are filling in.
The REAL School’s budget reflects a $10,000 drop in funding for professional and technical services because, Makin said, the school is taking on most of that work itself. The budget also includes more money for vehicle maintenance, she said, because the school does not plan to buy new vans this year.
Through financial donations, the REAL School has been able to maintain programs that would otherwise have been lost to funding cuts, Makin said.
Mike Kelly, district transportation director, said his overall budget proposal calls for less money than last year’s.
The proposal also reflects the completion of several years of work to consolidate and streamline transportation in Windham and Raymond into a single fleet of vehicles operating from one town, said Kelly.
A garage in Raymond is now closed and the district has six fewer buses, he said. Over two years, Kelly said, two positions in the department have been eliminated, including that of a transportation coordinator in Raymond. The person holding that position is retiring and the position will not be filled.
Sangster asked Kelly to explain how the loss of the coordinator position in Raymond works on a day-to-day basis, and Kelly responded that he starts his mornings in Raymond. “It’s important we have that one-on-one contact. I think we can achieve that,” he said, noting that calls to the Raymond transportation office are forwarded to Windham.
The state has given the district the green light to purchase three buses and will reimburse the district with a subsidy for additional equipment on those buses, said Kelly.
Board member Kate Brix asked about the elimination of a full-time, special-education bus driver. Kelly said that person resigned and the district does not need to hire for the position. Because of decreased needs, the district has also reduced the number of bus and van aids, Kelly said.
Kelly said he tracks fuel consumption each month to estimate needs for the next year. District buses fuel at depots in Windham, Raymond and Portland. Those towns and the City of Portland negotiate the purchase of that fuel; the district does not have control over the price, Kelly said.
In total, the district’s 58 vehicles log more than 750,000 miles per year, taking students to and from school and on athletic and field trips. Those trips are monitored by a software program that allows the district to keep close track of trip requests and completions, Kelly said.
Kelly and board members also briefly discussed a plan presented during last year’s budget cycle to construct a permanent building to house district transportation offices at the Windham Public Works site. The transportation department now uses two rented trailers on that property, for which it pays $11,000 a year. “I’m not sure the age of these trailers when we moved in, but they’re pretty beat up,” said Kelly.
That project is still in the assessment phase and, while there is no final figure yet on a cost, Kelly said he feels safe saying it will be significantly less than the $200,000 proposed last year.
Windham-Raymond Adult Education also did not ask for an increase in its local appropriation.
Director Tom Nash said his department was reducing the time of a pathways coordinator and making cuts to supplies, travel and marketing spending.
“Things are tough for us all,” he said, noting that some cuts to academic programming could be on the way.
Nash said the adult education budget shows little increase on expenditures. He said the program, where enrollment is up about 20 percent, has applied for grants and works with local businesses to generate additional revenue.
Nash said adult education programs must have career pathways in place by next year, and is facing substantial changes to a standard test. Big overhauls are coming to the GED exam, which is expected to become a more difficult exam as it is also completely computerized and administered by a private company, said Nash. The company will charge $25 per sitting and Maine will front the cost for two years, he said. “Most of these adults don’t have even that discretionary funding,” said Nash.
Board member Marge Govoni brought up the possibility of raising fees for adult education programs to raise revenues.
Nash said, “We haven’t gotten there yet. We need to study comparable programs’ charges. Will it bring in $20,000? No.”
Facilities manager Bill Hansen said his budget shows a reduction of one person, which is a correction based on real time: a person working five-eighths time was listed as one full-time person.
The facilities budget calls for security upgrades to school entrances, siding and masonry repairs and sidewalk construction. Another project is the multi-year installation of projectors built into ceilings, Hansen said.
The budget includes money to install built-in furniture for hallway work stations, to meet fire code.
Hansen asked for a $4,000 increase for uniforms, to help make support staff in buildings visible and easily identifiable. “With 39 staff, it’s a lot to start with,” he said. Hansen said he would like to give each person five shirts to begin with and offer options, such as pockets or short sleeves, so employees can make choices about their uniforms.