New education foundation formed in Saco to provide resources for public schools

From left, Michael Burman, Stephen Shiman, Tracey Collins and Tony Palleschi, members of Saco STEAM, an education foundation that recently formed to support public schools in Saco stand in front of C.K. Burns School. LIZ GOTTHELF/Journal Tribune

SACO — A new educational foundation has formed in Saco, its mission is to advocate for educational resources that raise educational standards and practices in Saco’s public schools serving Kindergarten through eighth grade.

The Alliance for Science, Technology, Education, Arts and Math, or Saco STEAM, is a nonprofit corporation led by a volunteer board that includes Michael Burman, Tracey Collins and Tony Palleschi, parents of local students, and Stephen Shiman, a school board member and retired director of community art schools.

Many communities in Maine have educational foundations, Collins said, and there was previously no foundation in Saco that addressed students in the Kindergarten through eighth grades. Burman, who was a member of the Saco School Strategic Planning Committee, said one of the identified needs of the committee was an educational foundation. 

The foundation will be fundraising and making community connections to fund teacher led projects, focusing on STEAM subject areas, which are not traditionally funded by the school’s operating budget. The foundation also wants to serve as a networking hub of best practices, Palleschi said. 

“As community members want to help and the schools have needs, we can try to put the right people in the right room together,” he said.

the group supports local teachers and educational leadership and wants to do work that is consistent with goals of teachers, Shiman said. 

 “It’s kind of like getting behind the team to make the team successful,” he said.

The foundation is also publicly supporting the proposed $39.3 million Saco school budget for fiscal year 2019, which is up for a final vote by residents at the polls on June 12. 

The school budget has received criticism from some residents, including former Mayor Don Pilon who said in a recent letter to the editor that  the $2.2 million increase from the current year is too much, as is the impact on property taxes. He said the Biddeford school budget is only increasing Biddeford’s mil rate by one cent. In his letter, Pilon urged residents to vote down the budget and tell the school board to “sharpen their pencils.”

Should the school budget be approved, residents will see a mil rate increase of 53 cents to $19.91. Though the proposed school budget alone would increase the mil rate by $1.16, it’s offset by the city budget and county taxes. 

STEAM members say the overall increase to the mil rate is pretty modest. The 53 cent mil rate increase would equate to a $121 annual property tax increase on a $228,000 home, which is the price of median home in Saco. 

Saco per pupil spending is well below the state average, say STEAM members, and is less than several other school communities, including York, Scarborough, Wells and Shapleigh. 

“We get average results for below average spending,” Palleschi said. “And in some sense, that’s a deal, but we think we can do better.”

The 2019 fiscal year school budget addresses concerns in the local education system by providing interventionists in math and literacy and a new STEM teacher at Saco Middle School, Palleschi said. The budget also addresses areas of the strategic plan, he said. 

For more information on Saco STEAM, go to www.facebook.com/sacosteam or www.sacoSTEAM.org.

— Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 325 or egotthelf@journaltribune.com.


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