SAD 53 board supports school closure

Posted March 01, 2010, at 11:40 p.m.

PITTSFIELD, Maine — Burnham Village School will close on June 30 unless voters in Burnham, Pittsfield and Detroit vote to save it.

The SAD 53 board of directors voted 7-2 Monday night in favor of closure with board members Regina and Barbara Basford, both of Burnham, in opposition. The Basfords didn’t elaborate on their votes during the meeting.

In a series of related decisions, the board also opted with lopsided votes to close the district’s central office building on Hartland Avenue in Pittsfield and eliminate an elementary school teacher and an assistant principal.

Those decisions will be finished or reversed in a districtwide referendum vote that Superintendent Michael Gallagher said is likely to happen April 27. The cuts are necessary because of imminent reductions in state aid for education by the Legislature, which is considering a budget bill that would bring spending in line with revenues that have nose-dived in the past year. School districts across Maine, as well as a host of state-supported agencies and programs, are in similar situations.

If voters in SAD 53 opt to keep Burnham Village School open, the three towns in the district would be liable for the expense to keep it open, said Gallagher. Closing the school will save the district more than $180,000 a year, including transportation costs. Overall, the measures approved by the board Monday night will save $316,000 in a district budget that is now about $10.2 million.

“Unfortunately, we’ll be back to you with more [proposals for cuts],” said board Chairman Robert Downs to the other board members. “[There will be more cuts] unless we get some additional revenue from somewhere.”

The overall district budget, taking into account the savings voted on Monday, would still trigger an 11.5 percent average property tax increase in the three towns in the district. The board’s budget committee has been working on a scenario that would bring the average property tax increase to 4 percent districtwide, but that requires another $248,000 in cuts.

The district is also awaiting word from the Maine Department of Education about whether it will be spared $182,000 in penalties under the state’s 2-year-old school consolidation law. SAD 53 tried to pair with surrounding districts but was unsuccessful. Gallagher and others are scheduled to meet with Maine Education Commissioner Susan Gendron on March 11 to discuss that issue.

If the district isn’t spared from the penalties, it would have to cut an additional $182,000. Board members were also hopeful that the Legislature would soften some of the cuts to education in the next fiscal year.

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