RSU budget plan includes closing school, cutting teaching positions

Posted March 10, 2011, at 6:38 p.m.

BUCKSPORT, Maine — Following directions from the school board, administrators at RSU 25 have developed a plan to cut almost $750,000 from the 2011-12 school budget in an effort to offset reductions in state subsidy.

And there are more cuts to come.

“We’re not done yet,” Superintendent Jim Boothby told the board’s budget committee on Wednesday.

Boothby reviewed proposed reductions starting with the closing of the Orland Consolidated School and with centralizing all RSU programs at the three remaining schools in Bucksport, a move that previously had been discussed.

Savings from closing the school have been estimated at more than $300,000. The nearly $450,000 in additional budget cuts hit all areas of the school operations, including teaching positions, programs, extra- and co-curricular activities and equipment, in an effort to trim the budget to  the $13.1 million goal set by the board. The proposal also includes using $160,000 in undesignated surplus to increase the revenue side of the budget.

Boothby said the decisions were not made lightly, and administrators and the board were aware that it was a sensitive topic that deals not only with dollars and positions, but also with people’s lives and their livelihoods. He stressed that the reductions were proposed at this point and that the school board would now begin a review of the areas targeted for cuts.

“This is an initial proposal to follow the board’s direction,” he said. “This is a lot to digest. But if you’re going to cut three-quarters of a million dollars from a budget, these are the kinds of conversations you’re going to have.”

In addition to eliminating four positions from the Orland school — a principal, secretary and two custodial positions — the proposal calls for eliminating the equivalent of 7.6 full-time teaching positions systemwide, as well as three assistant coaching positions at the high school.

The cuts in teaching positions would affect different grade levels and a variety of subject areas including physical education, foreign language, health, music, art, science and business. Those cuts will have an effect on programming, Boothby said, although administrators have not yet identified specific individuals who will be let go or how programming would be adjusted.

The steep cuts in state education funding this year are part of a trend that has seen state support for the RSU 25 schools decline by more than $1.5 million since the 2009-10 school year. That reflects an increase in the state’s expectations for local funding from the member towns of Bucksport, Orland, Prospect and Verona Island. It also reflects an increase in the state valuation of the member towns, which will continue to affect school budgets in the coming years, according to Boothby. The drop in state funding has shifted costs directly to the towns, he said. The local share of the budget has increased a corresponding $1.6 million since the 2009-10 school year.

According to Boothby, the proposed reductions bring the budget level to $13,119, 831. That’s more than $748,000 less than the initial budget proposal for the coming school year and almost $488,000 less than the current year’s budget.

Even so, with the reduction of state subsidy of $890,000, that $13.1 million figure would result in increases in the total amount to be raised locally by the four towns in the district. Half of the local share is based on the state valuation of each town; the other half is based on the number of students from each town in the schools.

If the budget stayed at that level, Bucksport would see a $146,773 increase in its share of the budget; Prospect, $12,903; and Verona Island, $24,189. Only Orland would see a decrease in its share of the budget, which would drop by $19,468.

The school department is still working to identify potential reductions in other areas of the budget, including transportation and special education.

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