PITTSFIELD, Maine — In an effort to cut three-quarters of a million dollars from a $10.5 million budget, school board members will vote later this month on closing one of SAD 53’s four schools — the Burnham Village School.
The school now contains the district’s kindergarten classrooms. Closing the school would save $88,555 in direct costs and more than $116,822 in transportation costs. Two positions would be cut, a maintenance job and a secretary’s position.
Other budget-slashing options discussed by SAD 53 Budget Committee members Monday night included cutting drama throughout the district, eliminating the elementary education principal, dropping the Spanish program and cutting several sports — such as wrestling and skiing — from the middle-school program.
A special board meeting has been called for 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 29, to vote on closing the school.
Superintendent Michael Gallagher explained Monday that the cuts were being proposed so a zero-taxation-increase budget could be presented to voters.
“I’m doing this because of the current economic conditions,” Gallagher said.
But many Burnham residents predicted the move two years ago when the district shifted the school from housing kindergarten and first-graders, to the kindergarten center for the entire district.
Opponents to the plan said at the time that they believed the move eventually would result in the school’s closure. If the school had been closed two years ago, only a vote of the Burnham residents would have been needed and it likely would have been defeated.
But because the district now sends students from all three towns — Burnham, Detroit and Pittsfield — to the school, its closure would require a districtwide vote, one that likely would pass.
“No one likes this,” Gallagher said. He said the district administrators first looked at the educational core, including art, music and physical education. “Then we looked at everything else and asked ‘What are the possibilities?’ This is the list.”
Gallagher said that the closing of BVS would result in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten being housed at Manson Park School, grades one through three at Vickery School, and grades four through eight at Warsaw Middle School. He said the fourth grade would be segregated from the older population in an ell on the west end of the school. Those three schools are in Pittsfield.
He said that a closure would require a vote by the end of April to have time to set a referendum vote for early June.
Gallagher painted a dismal picture of this year’s budget revenues.
Although the district may not know until mid-May what its exact state revenues will be, Gallagher estimates they will be nearly $300,000 less than last year’s.
Each town’s valuation also has increased, affecting state subsidy and local assessment.
Burnham’s valuation rose by 9.58 percent, Detroit’s by 8.53 percent and Pittsfield’s by nearly 13 percent. The state has determined that the total valuation of the district’s towns has risen by more than $39 million. Without the proposed cuts, school taxes in each of the towns would rise dramatically.
They could be as high as $142,890 more in Burnham, $70,897 more in Pittsfield, and $446,357 more in Pittsfield, over last year’s assessments, according to Gallagher’s estimates.
But at least one board member, Rosalie Williams of Pittsfield, questioned why the district was sticking to the zero-increase philosophy.
“How long are we going to hang on to the zero increase while the education and safety of our kids suffer?” Williams asked. “I don’t want to cut people that have direct contact with students.” She added, however, that many Pittsfield residents think closing the Burnham school “is a sound idea.”
Committee members made a variety of suggestions to further trim the budget, including, among others, buying no new books, expanding bulk purchasing, cutting payroll 2 percent across the board, cutting pre-kindergarten, removing ninth grade from Maine Central Institute, and closing the superintendent’s office.
Gallagher said several of those ideas would cost the district more money.
Many of those ideas will be discussed at the next budget meeting in late April.