Millinocket schools project $1.27M in cuts

Posted Jan. 24, 2011, at 9:11 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 24, 2011, at 10:43 p.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — Preliminary estimates indicate that the town’s public schools will have to cut $1.27 million from their costs just to maintain a zero-growth budget next year, Superintendent Kenneth Smith said Monday.

It’s an unsettling scenario that Smith said likely would be playing out at public schools statewide over the next several months. With Maine Department of Education funding expected to be cut to all public schools statewide by $59 million in the 2011-12 fiscal year, and federal stimulus funds drying up, school systems will prepare for at the least the same degree of aid cuts that occurred last year, he said.

Or worse.

“We have to do a lot of detail-checking still,” Smith said of the $1.27 million estimate, “but it’s a huge hit.”

Smith will brief the Millinocket School Committee on the developing fiscal situation during a budget workshop at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Residents are invited to attend.

Smith had drawn out some of the details on a whiteboard in his office at Stearns High School on Monday indicating where he thought the biggest funding cuts would come. According to Smith, the largest cuts include:

  • A possible state subsidy cut of $327,000.
  • A reduction in Medicaid subsidies of $58,000.
  • A $223,456 reduction in the school system’s undesignated fund balance, which would drop the fund to about $100,000.
  • The end of about $400,000 in American Resource and Recovery Act funding the school system received for the 2010-11 fiscal year, which ends June 30. That includes $106,427 in stabilization funds, $83,479 in resource funds, $1,400 in preschool funds, and about $153,035 in lost Title IA funding.

With the fiscal year about half-done, much will change between now and the start of budget deliberations in the spring, Smith said.

“We will make some improvements in the numbers, and some will go the other way as we go on,” Smith said. “One of the problems is that this school committee has already been cutting and cutting, so there isn’t a lot of [easy] cutting left to be done. I fear that [jobs that] are being funded by federal programs won’t exist.

“Now we will have to cut into programs,” Smith added. “If you are going to [be] losing one-seventh of your total yearly budget in one year, that’s pretty severe. Many of our programs are already being run on a shoestring. The community here has been extremely supportive, but you can’t expect [residents] to pick up the increases year after year.”

Smith said he sees only two viable options for making up the $1.27 million shortfall: more federal and state grant funding and his proposal to allow as many as 200 Chinese students to attend Stearns starting in September. School officials hope to get as many of 25 students in the first year and increase the enrollment to as many as 200.

Of the $27,000 tentatively set as the tuition rate per foreign student, $13,000 would pay for schooling and $14,000 for room and board, Smith has said.

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