BUCKSPORT, Maine — The school consolidation process is showing some savings for the Regional School Unit 25 as it develops its first budget.
The newly seated RSU 25 board at a budget meeting on Monday set the target budget figure for the district for next year at $14,650,000. That figure is almost $2 million less than the combined budgets for the members of the RSU for this year, according to Superintendent Jim Boothby.
The RSU represents the schools in Bucksport, Orland and the SAD 18 towns of Prospect and Verona Island. Their combined budgets for the current school year totaled $16,580,000, a difference of $1,930,000.
Much of the savings comes from the elimination of tuition payments, Boothby said. SAD 18 towns paid tuition to Bucksport for all of their students to attend Bucksport schools. Orland paid tuition to Bucksport for high school students. Because Orland retained school choice, it will continue to pay tuition to other school districts for some high school students.
That reduction in expenses, however, is offset by a reduction in revenues. In the past, Bucksport counted those tuition payments as revenue.
Until the budget is final, the board will not know what the cost will be to the individual towns and how much they will have to raise in taxes. According to Boothby, some of the RSU towns drew down on their surplus significantly last year, and will have less to draw on this year.
Although the RSU board officially held its first meeting last week, the existing school board members have been working for two months to develop a draft budget in order to have it ready in time for the start of the new school year. The RSU budget, and the rest of the district organizational details, have to be in place by July 1.
Boothby said Tuesday that the original budget submitted by administrators totaled $15,423,000. During the past months, staff have whittled that figure down to $14,780,000. That means Boothby and the administrative team need to cut an additional $130,000 to reach the $14,650,000 target the board has set.
“That’s a number the board feels comfortable with,” he said. “But they want to look at the cuts that will need to be made to get to that number.”
Boothby met Tuesday with administrators to begin the reduction process, which has not been as difficult as it might have been. Although cutting an additional $130,000 from the proposed budget will have an impact, Boothby said, the additional funding through the federal stimulus package has made the budget process a little less painful.
While there have not been any significant reductions in positions during the process, he said, the board needs to continue to look to the future.
“We certainly have to be mindful of the horizon, of a time when that stimulus money is no longer available,” Boothby said. “We’re going to have to respond to that and make adjustments.”
Boothby will present the adjusted budget to the board at its next meeting on Thursday, May 14. The board is expected to adopt the budget at that meeting. It will then be sent to the RSU budget meeting set for May 28. At that meeting, registered voters from the four towns will vote on separate warrant articles for the budget. If approved, the budget will go to a validation vote in each of the separate towns. That vote is scheduled for June 9.
The board has scheduled public hearings on the budget in the individual towns: Orland, May 18; Prospect, May 19; Bucksport, May 20; and Verona Island, May 21.
Meanwhile, at its organizational meeting last week, the board voted to hire Boothby as the RSU superintendent. Boothby was hired last year as superintendent for Bucksport, Orland and SAD 18. At the meeting last week, the board approved a two-year contract with a starting salary at Boothby’s current level, $89,500 plus benefits.
The board also elected Paul Bissonnette as chair of the board and Melinda Stegner as vice chair.