Midcoast school districts brace for subsidy cuts

Posted Dec. 04, 2008, at 12:14 a.m.

CAMDEN, Maine — The state of the economy, declining enrollments, and loss of state subsidy owing to a decline in state revenues have left area school districts with budget problems.

Superintendents from Camden, Rockland and Thomaston said this week that every effort will be made to limit the impact on programs and staffing for the remainder of the school year unless further state reductions are imposed later on.

Gov. John Baldacci in late November announced a package of cuts to balance the state budget, according to an informational letter from Education Commissioner Susan Gendron. The cuts include a reduction of $27.8 million in education in the current fiscal year.

While the governor may not by law withhold subsidy without legislative action, he may delay subsidy payments from June 2008 to July 2009, according to Gendron’s letter.

Baldacci will include a $27 million reduction in subsidy to schools in this fiscal year’s supplemental budget that will go to the Legislature later this month.

The proposed budget decrease could cost SAD 28 for Camden and Rockport and Five Town Community School District for Camden, Rockport, Hope, Appleton and Lincolnville approximately $300,000 in lost subsidy, said Patricia Hopkins, superintendent of both districts.

In addition, she said she is trying to deal with higher energy costs and unexpected special education and food service expenses.

“Because the majority of our expenses are fixed costs,” she said, referring to salaries, benefits, contracts and debts, “finding that amount of money has been a challenge.”

Looking on the bright side, Hopkins said, “At the moment, if there are no future curtailments, we should be able to weather this storm.”

Hopkins said she has no plan to cut staff positions this year, but would have to reconsider if there are further reductions by the state.

“We would have to go back to the table,” she said.

Although she is proposing a reduction of field trips to save costs, she does have access to the local Bisbee Sport Trust, which generates enough money to cover the cost of field trips and transportation.

“We may be able to shift some of the Bisbee account for local transportation costs,” she said.

Heating oil purchases have helped create a deficit, she added.

“We locked into an oil contract this summer at $3.67 a gallon when we had budgeted $3 a gallon,” she said, adding that SAD 28’s fuel budget is $54,000 over budget and the CSD’s is $36,850 over budget.

In a Dec. 1 letter to faculty and staff members, Hopkins asked for efficiency in purchase orders, professional development, equipment purchases and supplies.

Superintendent Judy Harvey of SAD 50 in Thomaston also indicated a need for efficiency.

“My goal is not to eliminate any jobs,” Harvey said this week. “We’re trying to see what will best generate the money. We’re hoping we’re going to come close with savings on professional development, field trips, and supplies that aren’t essential.”

SAD 50 stands to lose $125,364 in subsidy, about 1.1 percent of the district’s budget.

SAD 5 in Rockland stands to lose $232,908 in state subsidy, or 0.8 percent of the total budget.

“At this time, we are not planning to eliminate any positions or programs for the current year,” Superintendent Judy Lucarelli of SAD 5 said Wednesday.

She is planning to meet Thursday with the administrators of the new regional school unit for SADs 5 and 50 under the consolidation law.

“At this point I’m not confident about what the Legislature would do,” she added, pointing out that three-month state revenue projections could worsen and necessitate further cuts.

“We don’t really know what is going to happen,” she said.

“If they reduce subsidy further for the current year, what does that mean for our subsidy for next year?” she asked. “It certainly doesn’t bode well for the first year of a new school district.

“We’re proceeding to assume that we have to minimize the effect of the tax attack,” she said.

SAD 3, which includes the Waldo County towns of Unity, Thorndike, Troy, Jackson, Monroe, Brooks, Montville, Liberty, Knox, Freedom and Waldo, stands to lose $145,550 in subsidy cuts, or 0.8 percent of its total budget. SAD 3 Superintendent Joseph Mattos was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

gchappell@bangordailynews.net

236-4598

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