ELLSWORTH, Maine — In response to reductions in state subsidy for the current school year, the RSU 24 school board has reduced the school budget by $175,000.
The cuts, made at Tuesday’s regular meeting, come on top of about $702,000 in budget reductions that the board had made in anticipation of the state budget curtailment. The earlier cuts, according to Superintendent Bill Webster, involved among other actions not filling vacant positions, deferring maintenance and reducing supplies.
That still left $175,000 that needed to be cut from the budget.
“Things are getting difficult,” Webster said Thursday. “We’re at the point where we have to consider cutting programs and positions.”
Tuesday’s budget cuts, in fact, did include the elimination of five positions, including one teaching position. According to Webster, a high school teacher at Sumner High School will retire in January and the board chose not to fill that position.
“So we’re not laying off anyone there,” he said.
The board also cut four staff positions that did involve layoffs, he said. They cut two custodial positions and two part-time secretary positions. One of the staff members left his post, so that involved just three layoffs, he said.
“I’m happy to report that one of them got another job, and the other two remain employed on a partial basis in the district,” Webster said.
In addition, the board reduced the budget by $66,000 in school-based cuts, including tuition, staff development, textbooks, capital projects, equipment and field trips. It also identified about $24,000 in central office cutbacks, Webster said.
The RSU also is making an effort to bring back students who had been placed outside the district.
“With reorganization, we have the capacity to provide almost all special education services here,” he said. “There should be some savings there.”
While reducing the budget was a difficult process, Webster said the district is “not out of the woods yet” this year. The district, like others around the state, will have to wait until the Legislature passes a budget to find out if there will be additional cuts for the current school year.
And next year could be worse, he said.
The RSU already knows that the curtailment for the next fiscal year will result in a $1.2 million cut in subsidy for the district.
“We’re going to have to think long and hard about how to bridge that gap,” he said.
The district’s educational program committee is working on guidelines to assess the number of minutes students should spend in specific courses. And the full board will meet with administrators in a retreat early in January to develop goals for the coming year.
“That should help to jump-start the budget process for next year,” he said.
While programs and positions will be on the table during the budget discussions, there are some, Webster said, who believe that increasing the tax commitment from the communities in the district, also needs to be included in the mix. The board likely will look at additional revenues — including grants and taxes — as part of the budgeting process, but Webster said he would approach that carefully.
“Personally, I’m very sensitive to that route,” he said. “As much as the schools are hurting, I know there are families throughout our communities that are suffering equally, if not more so.”
Webster said they may have an initial idea of what the budget will look like, but the process — including local town informational meetings — will last through the spring. The board likely will vote on the budget on May 25 and the budget will go to voters during the statewide elections in June.