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Appleton Village School budget reflects loss of state subsidy

By Kay Neufeld | Apr 07, 2021

Appleton will see a 9.07% ($151,937) increase in cost to taxpayers within the town’s proposed Appleton Village School budget, according to acquired documents and conversations with representatives from the district. The overall budget will increase by 3.54% ($102,442 ) and stand at $2,997,875.

The proposed 2021-2022 Appleton Village School budget was collaboratively written by Superintendent Kate Clark, the School Committee, and the Budget Committee and approved for the town warrant Friday, April 2.

Appleton Village School faces the loss of 13.34% ($149,491) in state subsidy. In the 2020-2021 budget, Appleton Village School received $1,120,818, its highest subsidy since at least 2013-2014. However, the 2021-2022 subsidy has decreased to $971,327.

This loss of subsidy will directly impact taxpayers to the tune of 9.07%. However, the overall budget has remained fairly steady, with only a 3.54% increase. Initial versions of the budget saw an 18.01% ($301,593) increase in cost to the taxpayers.

Appleton Village School Principal Susan Stilwell said to “remember we all have to expect Surprises, Be Flexible, Ánimo, Adapt, Collaborate and be Fluid.”

The subsidy is impacted by certain factors somewhat out of the district’s control. According to research at the University of Southern Maine’s Maine Education Policy Research Institute, “total allocation, [student] enrollment, [municipal] valuation, and state share percentage…determine the specific amount of State subsidy a local community will receive in any given year.”

Clark, however, said that settling into her role as Superintendent of School District 69, which she began in May 2020, has taught her "some [impact on the subsidy] is a little bit in our control" and to "work hard to capture every bit of that subsidy that we can, going forward. We can make sure that we’re reporting correctly. Here in the central office, we've been making a lot of changes to make sure things are efficient and clear,” Clark said. “I don't think it would have affected this year…But now, we know exactly what we need to watch for.”

Other increases in the budget are due to a “healthy increase in staff salaries this year,” Clark said. According to the budget, the teacher salaries for regular instruction will increase by 7.91% ($52,748), the budget for health insurance will increase by 10.76% ($21,281) and the special education teacher salaries will increase by 36.46% ($35,551).

A 2019 Maine state law, “Chapter 505: Teachers’ Salaries” under Maine statutes, establishes a “minimum salary for certified teachers.” Following the end of June, all certified teachers must receive a minimum salary of $37,500. By June 30, 2022, the minimum salary for all teachers must be at $40,000. Furthermore, Maine law dictates teachers’ salaries cannot remain at the minimum level for longer than two years in the position.

The school district is also in the middle of contract negotiations with teachers, which Clark could not “expound” on much. However, both Clark and Stilwell echoed during interviews and budget committee meetings the importance of offering “competitive salaries” in order to keep the “unbelievably great teachers” in Appleton.

Clark said that she has worked with Stilwell, the budget committee, and the school committee to cut down the budget from its initial 18% increase in cost to the taxpayers. Clark said the budget is “putting back $100,000 from the taxpayers [from a “tax-relief”] fund balance to offset the cost of this budget.”

Clark also said that Stilwell “has been working for a number of years to ensure that other cost centers did not have to be increased this year so that [the teachers’ compensations] cost center could be increased to bring the teachers to a competitive salary.”

“We've tried to be really fiscally responsible and not have any increases in anything that wasn't absolutely necessary,” Stilwell said.

The town warrant, which includes at least 30 articles, has been posted in the town office and will be up for vote on a ballot in Tuesday, June 8. This election day will take the place of the usual town meeting due to social-distancing concerns.

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