At its meeting on February 27, 2023 Sanford School Committee approved what Superintendent of Schools Matt Nelson described as “a bare bones budget” for fiscal year 2023/24, which will be presented to the City Council on March 7.
When the budget was developed in January, School Department administrators had originally proposed a 6.1% increase in spending. The “turn the page” increase –what it would cost to keep expenses at current levels, with no new spending – would have been 4.9%, with most of that due to contracted salary and benefit increases. The 6.1% figure included plans to move several positions that are currently paid by ESSER and Perkins grant funds to the local budget, as well as adding a few new positions. After several workshops with School Committee members, the increase was trimmed to 4.0%, with some positions being returned to the ESSER budget.
The new positions being added to the local budget include a PreK teacher for Carl J. Lamb School, three PreK ed techs (one at each elementary school) which are currently being paid through grant funds, a School Resource Officer for the elementary schools, which is also being moved into the local budget, plus stipends for middle school volleyball and lacrosse coaches.
Additional increases on the expense side of the budget come mostly from the line items for outside placements ($647,723), PreK salaries and custodial salaries no longer covered by grants ($192,910 and $119,503) and fuel and gas ($194,100).
The revenue side of the budget is where Sanford is really taking a hit. The increase in property values over the past few years means the state reduces the percentage of its subsidy for school EPS (Essential Programs and Services). The state’s share of the EPS was 77.12% in fiscal year 2022, 76.87% in the current fiscal year, and will be 75.28% next year. This means the amount Sanford taxpayers have to pay for EPS went from $10.9 million in FY2022 to $11.34 million this year, and will be $12.46 million next year. As the budget was originally proposed, the increase to taxation for the school side of the budget would have been 25.5%
To balance that reduction in revenue, the School budget was amended to include use of $596,697 from reserve accounts that have been set aside in the past few years, as well as $532,481 from carryover. Use of these funds, along with cuts in spending, brought the proposed increase to taxation down to 11%.
Despite the reduction in state revenue, Sanford is still very much a “receiver” district that gets much more state funding than other local school districts. Next year, when Sanford’s EPS will be funded by the state at 75.28%, Gorham will get 59.08%, Biddeford will get 37.77% and Portland will get just 15.83%. Sanford also ranks at the very bottom in per-pupil spending among local districts, at $12,826.91. The local average is $16,668.56 and the state average is $16,037.66.
The School and Municipal budgets will be presented to the City Council at a workshop beginning at 4:00 pm on Monday, March 7. The Council will continue having budget workshops each Monday in March. The public hearing on both budgets will be held March 21. The budgets are scheduled for formal approval on April 4. The School budget will go before voters in June.
All of the School Committee’s budget workshops were recorded and are available for viewing at Town Hall Streams here and on YouTube here. More detailed information on the School budget is available here.