NEWPORT, Maine — Fears of losing a total of $1.7 million in state funding have led Regional School Unit 19 administrators to develop a list of potential budget-cutting proposals that include closing Palmyra Consolidated School and eliminating as many as 15 positions districtwide.
RSU 19 Superintendent William Braun said those measures and others will be considered next week by the district’s budget committee. The projected $1.7 million loss in state revenue in 2011 stems from a supplemental budget bill under consideration by the Legislature, which needs to cut spending to match sinking revenues associated with the poor economy.
Braun said a reduction in state aid for education, combined with other aspects of the budget bill that shift expenses to towns, will force the district to “cut into the bone” on education programs. A major component of that exercise that is under consideration involves closing Palmyra Consolidated School.
“My personal opinion is that a school is always the heart of a community,” said Braun. “But we’re looking at a school with 63 kids in it and a budget that’s looking at a $1.7 million state aid reduction. Those things sort of fly in the face of each other.”
RSU 19, which includes the towns of Corinna, Hartland, Newport, Palmyra, Plymouth, St. Albans, Etna and Dixmont, has a current budget of around $22.4 million.
In addition to its low attendance, Braun said, the Palmyra school is due for significant maintenance that could be avoided if the school were closed before fall.
Braun also said administrators are considering eliminating 10 to 15 positions in the district, though he did not say which ones.
“We’re looking at every program and what its actual needs are,” he said. “It’s going to be a tight year.”
If the budget committee agrees with the proposals developed by administrators, those proposals would go to the full RSU 19 board where a two-thirds majority would be needed to enact them. Palmyra residents then would have their say with a town vote. If the school board supports the school closure and Palmyra residents vote against it, the school would remain open but Palmyra taxpayers would assume more than $450,000 a year in operating costs.
Braun said he is hopeful that the funding situation will improve. State economists told members of the Legislature this week that their predictions about state revenues between now and June 30, 2011, have improved by approximately $51 million, which reduces the previous $438 million hole in the state budget. Braun and others also are waiting to see what the Legislature does with federal stimulus money headed for Maine.
The RSU 19 Budget Committee’s March 4 meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the district’s central offices at 182 Moosehead Trail in Newport.