SAD 53 to cut more jobs

Posted April 12, 2010, at 10:53 p.m.

PITTSFIELD, Maine — The unpleasant work of trimming hundreds of thousands of dollars of spending from public education programs is nearing its end in SAD 53, where voters will be asked at the end of the month to close a school.

The three-town school board on Monday gave Superintendent Michael Gallagher the go-ahead to write another round of spending reductions into the 2010-2011 budget, which begins July 1. The latest items include reducing the hours for four or five positions and eliminating one or two others, depending on how the numbers work out. Adjustments in tuition payments to Maine Central Institute and changes in student transportation procedures also would help the bottom line.

The latest cuts would target a custodian, up to two library educational technicians, two secretaries and a pre-kindergarten through fourth-grade guidance counselor, whose position would be reduced by three days a week. Those reductions are on top of earlier decisions by the school board to close the central office building and Burnham Village School, along with cutting a custodian, three teachers and an assistant principal.

The cuts, which were necessary because of sliding revenues from state government, would result in a total district budget of about $9.9 million, down more than $250,000 from this year’s budget of about $10.2 million. Despite the spending reduction, school department money collected from taxes still will increase. Under a scenario in which the overall increase in taxes is 4 percent or less — which the school board has decided is as high as they are willing to go — Burnham’s assessment would increase by $31,000; Detroit’s by $39,000 and Pittsfield’s by $62,000. On a percentage basis, Detroit would be hit the hardest with a more than 9 percent in-crease, which results from a school funding formula that involves the year-to-year change in a town’s overall value.

At least two board members, Paul Williams of Detroit and Jan Laux of Pittsfield, told Gallagher to try to bring the overall tax increase below 4 percent to ease the impact on municipal budgets.

“There’s an understanding that 4 percent is a number we’ve bought into,” said Williams. “If we had an opportunity to keep the budget increase less than 4 percent … I hope that opportunity stays alive.”

Hanging in the balance are two after-school activity bus runs and $16,000 worth of elementary math textbooks, which the board will decide on when the draft budget is complete. Gallagher said he would bring a draft budget to the board for final enactment at its May 3 meeting.

While the board has endorsed closing the Burnham Village School, voters in the district’s three towns will have the final say during a districtwide referendum on April 29. An informational meeting on the ballot question is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 15, at the Warsaw Middle School gymnasium.

If voters opt to keep the school open, each town would be charged a share of the $269,000-per-year cost aside from their normal obligation for public schools, according to state law. That would equate to $63,955 for Burnham, which would absorb 23.8 percent of the cost; $35,321 for Detroit, which would absorb 13.2 percent of the cost; and $169,330 for Pittsfield, which would absorb 63 percent of the cost, according to figures provided by Gallagher.

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