Glenburn, Orono, Veazie school district’s financial picture looks slightly less gloomy

Posted March 02, 2012, at 7:59 p.m.

GLENBURN, Maine — RSU 26 might finally be getting some good financial news that could save some positions that were put on the chopping block during a daunting effort to close a nearly $2 million predicted budget shortfall.

The numbers are still fluid and “subject to legislative action,” Superintendent Douglas Smith said Friday, but if estimates hold up, the district could have about $850,000 more than what it thought it would have available when the state sent in its original aid estimates back in September 2011.

September’s estimates were based on numbers from the previous year, but the more recent prediction used newer data, which revealed enrollment fluctuations and an increase in the special education student population, according to Maine Department of Education spokesman Matthew Stone. Those factors, among others, led to the increased state funding prediction.

Based on those dismal early fall figures, the school district tasked school administrators with cutting nearly $2 million from their budgets, mostly by trimming and combining positions. The finance committee presented that list of recommended cuts to the full board in January. The board has been hosting meetings and workshops ever since to comb through the suggestions.

“Now it’s time for the board to make some decisions on priorities and apply the new revenue as they see fit,” Smith said.

Smith said the board will discuss during a March 7 budget workshop whether new-found funding could salvage some administrative jobs within the schools — for example, the Orono Middle School principal and Glenburn assistant principal positions.

Smith said Orono High School needs to renovate space to replace classrooms that will be lost when two portables are removed this summer, which is another priority the board will eye.

Part of the funding also could go toward helping the Glenburn, Veazie and Orono town councils mitigate or eliminate any potential tax hike.

“Our goal is to not have a tax increase,” Smith said.

The board needs to notify school administrators of changes to their positions by the end of March. Other staff positions need notification in May.

The district hopes to have a budget ready by March 21 so it can present the information to the town councils by April 1, Smith said.

Meanwhile, Veazie and Glenburn are in the midst of attempts to withdraw from the school district. Residents of both towns will vote on March 27 to decide whether they will move forward in the withdrawal process by forming a committee to enter into negotiations with the school district board. A group of Orono residents started the petition process for withdrawal in February but hadn’t submitted any signatures as of Friday.

At most, two of the three communities could be successful because if all three pulled out it effectively would dissolve the district, which isn’t allowed under state law, Jim Rier of the Maine Department of Education said in February.

Those leading the pushes to get out of the district have blamed consolidation for the budget shortfall. They’ve also decried what they call a loss of local control over their schools. Glenburn and Veazie residents have said their communities are underrepresented on the school board.

Smith called the secession efforts “emotionally driven” and said he believes residents might reconsider once the withdrawal committees are formed and start negotiations with the school board.

Smith said any town that withdraws would have to pick up the costs of its own administrators, special education programs and transportation for students while paying back any money owed to the district, among other expenses now shared among the three communities.

“There’s actually safety in numbers, and I think we’ve accomplished a great deal,” Smith said.

“Whatever the towns choose to do, it’s their decision. I’m not going to try to fight it,” Smith said. “All I can do is point out the facts, point out the advantages. It’s their call. The citizens will decide and live with the consequences.”

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