RSU 67 board to try again with budget proposal

Posted June 09, 2011, at 10:35 p.m.

LINCOLN, Maine — RSU 67 residents who rejected the school department’s proposed $11.9 million budget earlier this week can explain what they want to replace it with when the board of directors meets on June 15, school officials said Thursday.

The RSU 67 board of directors set June 15, June 21 and June 28 as the key dates when the budget will be re-examined and voted upon again during its meeting on Thursday. Chairwoman Jackie Thurlow said she was surprised that the majority of the more than 100 Chester, Lincoln and Mattawamkeag voters who attended a budget hearing at Mattanawcook Academy on Tuesday reject the first and probably most crucial article of the 21 they voted on.

“We tried very hard to be fiscally responsible and to maintain all the services that we could,” Thurlow said.

The $11.9 million proposal, which would have gone into effect at the start of the 2011-12 fiscal year on July 1, represented a $339,397 cut in the $12.2 million budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year. Twenty of its 21 articles passed, but voters rejected within the first the elimination of 21 education tech positions at the district’s three schools that many apparently felt the school system could not do without.

“We are concerned about the schools meeting their legal teaching support requirements for students,” parent Dolly Phillips of Lincoln said at Thursday’s meeting.

The loss of the education techs, Phillips and other parents said, would deprive students of vital, hands-on resources that help them absorb the lessons teachers provide, particularly special-needs students who often rely heavily upon attention the techs provide.

The loss of the techs could slow classroom progressions, lead to lower test scores and possibly force the academic segregation of mainstreamed special-needs students, the parents said.

Board members aren’t happy about having to make the cuts, Thurlow said. She blamed an anticipated reduction of state aid to RSU 67 of $493,265 and the loss of another $700,000 in federal stimulus money that came in over the last two years, and other aid, for making the cuts necessary.

“We don’t want to shortchange the children at all,” said Thurlow, who believes that the state government’s public school education funding formal cheats the rural schools of northern Maine.

Students won’t lack for ed tech support when school resumes in September. Under the new budget, 70 ed techs have been retained and more can be rehired next year if students require them, Superintendent of Schools Denise Hamlin said.

No figures comparing the number of ed techs employed by the Lincoln Lakes region schools with those working at other state public schools of similar size were available on Thursday, but some board members believe Lincoln has more than the average.

As part of the proposed budget, the school system will hire six full-time teachers — a special education teacher, speech pathologist, two literacy specialists, a math interventionist and a reading resources teacher — to more than offset the loss of the ed techs, Hamlin said.

The reading resources specialist will teach the Providing Alternative Ways to Success program designed for special-needs students and others who have difficulty reading, Hamlin said.

The June 15 meeting will start with an informational session at 6 p.m. at which board members will query residents about what changes they want to make to the proposed budget. The regular session will start at 7 p.m. The board will vote on the new budget on June 21 and another validation vote session such as Tuesday’s will occur on June 28.

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