YORK, Maine — Although the school budget for fiscal year 2020 is largely status quo, that didn’t stop Budget Committee members from pressing administrators on several issues as they began their review of school spending.
The committee Tuesday delved into the need and cost for a full-time maintenance person for the York Community Auditorium, the continued need of a second high school assistant principal, and a jump in health insurance costs based on a bumper crop of new parents among faculty.
The meeting is the first of many to be held over the next eight weeks. This week, the school budget is being discussed; next week will be the town budget.
All of the building principals and Zak Harding, director of facilities, spoke Jan. 8. They said most of their cost increases are driven by salaries and benefits. The principals also said they added a little more money to their field trip and equipment supply accounts, after several years of austerity budgets due in large part to special education overages.
While the committee seemed pleased overall at the individual budgets presented, it had a lot of questions. Key among them was the need to spend $73,000 to hire a new custodian specifically for the auditorium. The breakdown is $41,053 for base pay, $28,479 for benefits (Harding assumed a family plan; costs could go down depending on the person hired), and $3,448 for retirement.
Harding said the position was needed due to high usage of the facility by the schools, before adding in outside events. He said there are currently 138 different entries for events at the YCA, and “outside groups are now coming in, and we’re trying to fit them around the events we already have” for the schools.
Budget Committee member Jerry Allen wondered why existing custodial staff couldn’t handle the job as needed. Harding reminded the committee the old auditorium was 10,000 square feet and the new one is 30,000; the old space was hardly used and the new one is used all the time.
Chairwoman Nan Graves said she was surprised at the overall cost. “Why do you need $73,000 for a custodian? I want to get a breakdown of what that position entails, and I’m curious to know all the components that make up that position.”
“I don’t think any of us are arguing we need this. I think Nan is just sharpening her pen a little bit,” said member Heather Campbell.
Committee members also had a lengthy discussion with Superintendent Lou Goscinski and YHS Principal Karl Francis about the tenure of Assistant Principal Ellen Connell. Connell was hired in July 2017 as a second assistant principal, on the condition set by the Budget Committee that the job would sunset after three years in 2020. She is in her second year on the job.
“How is she looking at working her way out of a job? Where are we on sunsetting this position?” said Graves.
Francis and Goscinski defended the position, saying they’re hopeful the committee will lift the sunset clause.
“We value and truly need this position. We continue to grow every day she’s in the building. We’re now able to build a framework and capacity that we need,” said Francis, citing gains in teacher evaluations, substance use issues, improvements to advanced placement classes and in meeting federal and state mandates.
“I know there will be community support (for the position). I can say that with absolute confidence,” he added. “It’s frustrating for me to even be talking about this because I know the value she brings to the school.”
Citing increasing state and federal mandates on school systems, coupled with stressors on high school students these days, “I don’t know what was discussed a couple of years ago, but based on building needs, I would be steadfast in support of what Karl is saying,” Goscinski said.
“I’m very impressed with the turnaround at the school, and I’m not saying I don’t agree with you," Graves said. "But because we did put a sunset on this, we have a responsibility to discuss this."
“We’re not in the high school,” Campbell said. “The more you can educate us the better.”
Several committee members praised the new contract with the York Teachers Association, calling it a “reasonable” document.
“I think the taxpayers and the public are going to be very pleased when they see the results of their work,” Graves said, referring to the negotiating team. “It’s a very reasonable, very fair contract for the teachers.”
“It’s a tremendous achievement," added Tom Carnicelli. "It gives you a little more room to do a few more things. I’m glad to see a few more cultural events. You’re getting out of the straightjacket, and that’s what I wanted."