March 21, 2013

RSU 14 eyes proposed budget by Leah Hoenen

Focusing on the value of the high-quality, efficient learning the Windham-Raymond School District provides, Superintendent Sandy Prince presented the proposed fiscal year 2014 budget to the Board of Directors Wednesday, March 13.

Three-quarters of the $39.8 million budget is earmarked for salaries, while the rest is allocated for services, supplies and equipment and debt service and other commitments.

The proposed budget is $880,000, or 2.26 percent, greater than last year. Over the last five years, 2010 to 2014, the district’s budgets have gone up an average of .52 percent.

Taxes provide 60 percent of the total budget, while state subsidies account for 40 percent. One percent of budget revenue is carryover, while slightly less than one percent comes from other sources.

Like other New England states, Maine is feeling the crunch of restricted funding; school funding in Maine is about 2.6 percent below 2008 levels, said Prince. This gives the district a great opportunity to examine priorities and become more efficient, while continuing to provide student-focused, research-based education, he said. 

Subsidies from the state have fallen to amounts less than Windham and Raymond received before the district was consolidated. This year, the state subsidy is $13.8 million, down from the $14 million the district received for the fiscal year 2013. 

“Increasingly, the subsidy has not been there that we had hoped for,” said Prince. “We do our best to propose a budget that provides students the education they need at a cost taxpayers can afford.”

The budget proposal reflects a move by the Department of Education to shift some retirement costs to school districts; the district would have to cover $500,000 in retirement costs. Board chairwoman Catriona Sangster asked if the presented proposal reflects that change. Prince said it does.

Prince said the state continues to struggle with decreased revenue. Last year, the district’s budget was frozen due to a curtailment of $200,000. “It’s a struggle for staff,” Prince said. The district strives to provide staff the materials it needs, but has had to freeze the budget to come up with curtailment funding.
Still, enrollment in Windham-Raymond schools is slowly climbing, with 3,333 students enrolled as of Feb. 1. Higher enrollment is good, said Prince, although it challenges the district to accommodate class sizes. 

Windham-Raymond schools per-pupil cost in the 2011-2012 school year was $9,099, slightly less than the state average of $9,726, said Prince. SAD 51 in Cumberland spends the most per pupil at $11,463 and SAD15 in Gray spends the least at $8,424 per pupil. “We’re doing a lot for our per pupil cost,” he said, noting that some would like to see that figure increase.

To make up for some gaps in funding, district staff actively write grants, and have won more than $6 million in grant money since the 2004-2005 school year, Prince said.

The district is on the lower end of administrative spending in Cumberland County, Prince noted in his presentation, and has restructured administrative costs through consolidation.

“Budgets are lean and people are working incredibly hard with what they have,” said Prince. 

He praised staff and administration for discussing and researching teaching and learning and fostering a culture of high expectations. 

Calling Windham-Raymond a highly-efficient, high-performing school system, Prince said he sees innovation and hard work in the district’s schools every week. In a tight economy, schools must rely on community organizations for support, and he said this district has strong relationships with community organizations.

“We are very fortunate we have taxpayers who are willing to support our schools. They’ve done a very good job of that in the past,” Prince said.

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