SKOWHEGAN — Increases in salaries, fuel costs and health insurance premiums are the primary reasons for a 2.6% increase in the proposed budget for Maine School Administrative District 54, according to officials.
SAD 54 Superintendent Jon Moody presented the proposed $38.9 million budget Tuesday to the Skowhegan Board of Selectmen. The spending plan represents an increase of about $985,000 from the current school budget, with Skowhegan’s share increasing almost $128,000.
Residents from each town in the district — Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Smithfield — are expected to vote on the budget June 14.
“When you look at the warrant articles, the biggest driver (of the budget increase) is staff-related,” Moody said.
About 84% of the budget proposal reflects these expenses, which include contracted salaries and employee costs and benefits. Moody said health insurance premiums increased 5.36% this year. The district’s budget request reflects $21.6 million for salaries, $6.4 million for health insurance and $2.7 million for contracted and purchased services.
To offset some of the increase for property owners, the MSAD 54 board of directors used carryover funds to lessen the tax burden, according to Moody.
“This isn’t something that can be recreated each year,” Moody said, “but it’s an approach the board has done to minimize the impact locally, as budgets go up and down based on external factors like we are seeing nationally.”
Moody said the district was able to save on certain expenses when it shifted to hybrid and remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also benefited from federal pandemic relief money.
The district has so far received $5.7 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which is part of the federal CARES Act enacted during the pandemic. It also received $10.4 million as part of the federal American Rescue Plan.
Voters are also expected to decide June 14 whether to approve the district’s plan to build a $75 million elementary school in Skowhegan. The state would cover 94% of the school’s cost, and the state Board of Education voted earlier this month to support the plan.
The school would be built on the property where the Margaret Chase Smith School now sits, replacing North Elementary School and consolidating some grades in the district.
Early design plans were presented to local officials in February. They call for a building that would house about 850 students in prekindergarten through fifth grade, and become the new location for students from the upper grades at North Elementary School, Bloomfield Elementary School, Margaret Chase Smith School and Canaan Elementary School.