Brewer school budget forecast includes layoffs, no tax increase

Posted March 08, 2010, at 11:14 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — Only the revenue side of the 2010-11 school budget was presented during Monday’s school board meeting, but Superintendent Daniel Lee did tell members to expect layoffs to avoid any increase in taxes.

At a special Brewer School Committee meeting, scheduled for March 22, “we will talk about the expenditure side,” he said, which will include the planned layoffs.

A healthy fund balance, which contains around $2.7 million, will be used to offset losses created by a decrease in state education funding and other revenues, eliminating the need to ask residents for more money, Lee said.

“Our request from the city will remain the same as last year,” he said.

School leaders have been discussing and planning how to deal with the bad economy for quite some time, and have been working on a two-year budget, Lee said.

“We knew this was going to happen,” he said. “We’ve slowly tried to build our fund balance … so we could use it to balance our budget” without raising taxes.

Even so, the estimated $300,000 drop in state education funding, increases in operating costs and paying for some needed projects have created an approximately $500,000 hole, which is forcing school officials to cut positions, Lee said.

“There will be some layoffs,” he said, without giving details.

While he said the details would be presented during the special meeting later this month, the superintendent did describe them as “a gradual paring down. Slowly reducing our work force.”

The key is deciding what can be let go, while still maintaining as many programs as possible, Lee said.

School districts across the state, which were boosted last year and this year with federal stimulus funds, are racing toward a severe drop in funding, projected to hit at the end of fiscal year 2011, he said.

“It’s what we call the year of the cliff,” Lee said. “Two things will happen simultaneously: The federal [stimulus] money will disappear and the student [general purpose] funding will” decrease.

The Maine Department of Education is projecting that Brewer will see around $9.46 million for fiscal year 2010-11, an increase of $1.5 million over this year, but after taking out the nearly $1.9 million debt payment for the new elementary-middle school, there is a net loss.

“That will be a loss of about $300,000,” Jim Rier, the department’s director of finance and operations, said Monday.

Brewer’s fiscal year 2009-10 school budget was $18.16 million, and included $1.3 million in construction funds for the new school that were funneled through the district, Lee has said.

The state aid amounts have changed several times over the past several months, and the figures sent out March 5 are better than earlier ones, Lee said. The funding is subject to legislative approval, expected later this month, Rier said.

“What is there is pretty close” to what the school department should get, Rier said.

Lee did not give specifics about the projected bottom line for the coming school year, but he did say it did not look good.

“There is an economic reality here — it’s harsh and it’s true,” he said. “The economy is definitely ailing at this point. All we can do is hope for the best and plan for the worst.”

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