SAD 22 budget reflects difficult choices, cuts

Posted May 19, 2009, at 9:30 p.m.

HAMPDEN, Maine — SAD 22 officials and school committee members recently approved a 2010 fiscal year budget that decreases expenditures by 1.66 percent but still requires an increase of 1.26 percent in local taxpayer share.

That seeming contradiction largely results from approximately $200,000 less in state subsidy and a roughly 5 percent combination cost of living and salary step increase for all teachers.

“It’s a responsible budget,” SAD 22 Superintendent Rick Lyons said Tuesday. “Everyone involved was aware of the economic conditions we’re in. In 19 years [as superintendent] I’ve never had a budget like this.”

Indeed, tough decisions were made. Nearly $1 million in expenditures were trimmed from the current fiscal year budget. The biggest loss will come through personnel. Four full-time and two part-time teaching positions will be eliminated.

“Personnel cuts are always difficult,” Lyons said. “Usually, we might be able to lose people through attrition rather than layoffs, but that didn’t happen this year.”

Of the six positions identified for elimination, only two were not planning to return.

The cuts don’t stop there. All administrators and central office staff members agreed to a salary freeze that will save more than $60,000. SAD 22 officials also requested that teachers consider a wage freeze as well. Unfortunately, Lyons said, the teachers’ union did not endorse that idea, even though it could have saved an addi-tional $300,000 or more.

Ellen Pariser, who represents the SAD 22 teachers’ association, declined to talk about the reasons for declining that suggestion.

“Our members took a vote,” she said flatly.

Without the teachers agreeing to a salary freeze, more cuts were necessary. Some will come from books and other material supplies. Others will come from reduction in athletics.

Junior varsity hockey, freshman boys and girls basketball, freshman football and junior varsity winter cheering all have been defunded, as have the civil rights club and the environmental club. Additionally, the “B” teams at Reeds Brook for baseball, softball and boys and girls soccer have been defunded.

Lyons said it’s important to note that while funding for those programs has been eliminated, the programs themselves have not. Basically, it allows parents or other supporters to raise funds to keep them going.

“We looked at user fees, but that wasn’t supported,” the superintendent said.

Last year, SAD 22 was approved for state funding for a new high school to replace Hampden Academy. That project, to be completed by December 2011, will include about $45.4 million from the Department of Education and $6.2 million from local taxpayers. However, Lyons said, none of that local share is represented in the 2010 fiscal year budget.

SAD 22 is made up of the towns of Hampden, Newburgh and Winterport. Funding for education is split between those communities based on a complex formula that considers the number of students and the valuation of property.

Broken up by town, Hampden’s share of the $8.1 million total school budget will increase by 1.8 percent and Newburgh’s by 3.6 percent. Winterport taxpayers actually will pay 0.9 percent less in 2010 than 2009.

Townspeople still have to vote on the SAD 22 budget. The referendum will be held Tuesday, June 9, at the Hampden Municipal Building, the Newburgh Town Office and the Samuel L. Wagner Middle School in Winterport.

In the meantime, a public forum on the proposed budget will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 2, at Reeds Brook Middle School in Hampden. A district-wide budget meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 4, inside Skehan Gymnasium at Hampden Academy.

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