Orono-area school board receives list of suggested cuts

Posted Jan. 18, 2012, at 11:02 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — The RSU 26 Finance Committee passed its list of recommended cuts and reductions to the board of directors during a Wednesday night meeting at Orono High School. Now the board takes on the hefty task of reviewing the suggestions, which it will have to vote on by Feb. 15.

“[The finance committee] has done an outstanding job in vetting our budget,” Superintendent Doug Smith said early in the meeting. “While you might disagree with some of the suggestions, the process overall has worked very well.”

The school district faces a nearly $2 million budget shortfall, and finding ways to cut back has been time-consuming, difficult and painful, finance committee members said.

The recommendations, which were altered slightly after Tuesday’s finance committee meeting, would come about $105,000 short of closing the gap.

That leftover portion of the shortfall will be passed on to the communities, according to the committee.

However, the towns would have needed to raise that money regardless of the budget shortfall in order to receive allocations from the state, according to Susan O’Roak, finance committee chairwoman.

Glenburn’s share of the $105,349 would be $37,689. Orono and Veazie would contribute $18,489 and $49,171, respectively.

The division of the load is based on state valuations of the communities compared with where they were a year ago, according to the finance committee.

How each town raises their amount would be up to the town.

“Where we are compared to where we were when we went before the town councils is amazing,” O’Roak said.

The numbers are still fluid as the school district waits to find out if its state allocation will change based on how the state handles its Department of Health and Human Services budget gap.

During a budget process that started back in October, school administrators at Glenburn, Orono and Veazie schools were given dollar amounts to reach through cuts. The administrators’ lists of suggested reductions then were submitted to the finance committee for number-crunching and compilation.

The suggestions range from combining the Orono Middle School and Asa Adams School principal positions to eliminating the Glenburn school librarian to cutting Orono High School’s junior varsity field hockey team.

After several months of review and tinkering by the finance committee, the board of directors now will consider the changes. The board’s goal is to adopt a full budget during a March meeting, according to Smith.

Chairwoman Alison Mitchell told board members they should be prepared to approve the recommendations, but not the budget as a whole, by mid-February when the school district is required to notify staff if their jobs or programs will be altered or eliminated.

But the school district could run into obstacles before — or even after — it adopts the budget.

Some residents in Veazie and Glenburn have started the process of seeking to withdraw from the school district.

Veazie resident Rob Tomlinson has formed a committee, along with four others, that has submitted language for a ballot initiative that calls for withdrawal from RSU 26. If the language is accepted by the town, the committee would need signatures from 10 percent of the Veazie residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election, which works out to 88 signatures, according to Tomlinson.

Glenburn Council Chairman Michael O’Connor said this week that a similar petition is being passed around town by some residents.

If the RSU stays intact despite those efforts, there budget still has to go before voters in June. The board should have a Plan B prepared in case voters reject the budget, town officials have cautioned.

Budget workshops are scheduled Jan. 25 in the Orono High School cafeteria, Feb. 1 in the Glenburn School cafeteria and Feb. 8 in the Glenburn cafeteria. A regular board meeting is set for Feb. 15 in the Glenburn Municipal Building. The board will vote on the proposed recommendations that night. All meetings are planned for 7 p.m.

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