Presque Isle, Ashland schools to see funding cuts

Posted Feb. 05, 2010, at 6:44 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 27, 2011, at 8:58 a.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — State Department of Education officials said earlier this week that only 12 of Maine’s 183 school districts will get more state aid for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The SAD 1 school district in Presque Isle is not one of them, and Superintendent Gehrig Johnson expects that staff will be affected.

Johnson said Thursday that the district is losing more than $701,000, the largest funding cut it has ever seen.

“We have not started the budget process yet but we are searching for recommendations that we can make to the school board as far as cuts,” he said. “We will have to achieve this through a combination of reductions and tax increases.”

Johnson was blunt about what the funding reduction means for staffing in the district.

“We will have to cut some staff,” he said.

State aid figures usually are released in late March, but the department got them out earlier this year. Districts across the state are expected to see a $92 million drop in state aid that stems from recession-related revenue losses.

The funding still must be approved by the Legislature.

Johnson said he is not optimistic that the district will see any more funding.

“This has got to have a big impact on staffing,” he said.

Johnson noted that last month officials decided to suspend operation of the SAD 1 child care center during the 2010-11 school year. The day care service was used by SAD 1 employees. The move will force the elimination of four positions.

“I do not know how many more positions we will have to cut,” said Johnson. “People in this district have come to expect the high-quality education that we provide. It is hard to do that with all of these funding cuts.”

Johnson is also the superintendent for SAD 32 in Ashland. He said that district stands to lose $198,000 in funding. The district also has to absorb an approximately $62,000 penalty for failing to comply with the school consolidation law.

“That is going to be a huge hit for them,” said Johnson. “We are just beginning the budget process in that district. It isn’t looking very promising.”

Johnson noted that in 2004, Maine voters passed a referendum that requires the state to provide 55 percent of the cost of education.

“They have consistently backed away from that mandate,” said Johnson. “It is frustrating.”

The superintendent said he knows the two districts are not alone in dealing with the funding cuts.

“It is not a pretty picture anywhere,” he said Thursday.

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