After deciding what to cut, RSU 26 now struggling with decisions on what to save

Posted March 28, 2012, at 10:55 p.m.

VEAZIE, Maine — RSU 26 administrators had to make difficult decisions several months ago when deciding what positions and programs to put on the chopping block to close a projected $2 million budget gap. But now that more money is available, the board is faced with tough choices as to what it will save.

Based on changing state allocation projections, the board can put $439,000 back into the budget to save positions, and that number could increase in the next couple of weeks if a contract negotiation gets resolved, according to Superintendent Douglas Smith.

During Wednesday night’s board meeting, representatives from each community brought forward priorities of what they’d like to see saved.

In Glenburn, a librarian, education technician and stipend for a substitute principal topped the list.

In Veazie, Principal Scott Nichols requested reinstating one teaching position to assure class sizes aren’t boosted too much if enrollment figures rise next school year. Next on the list would be to reinstate the physical education teacher to full-time status and allow the guidance counselor to work four days per week rather than three.

Orono representatives, who met Monday, first recommended retaining two separate principal positions, one at Asa C. Adams School and the other at Orono Middle School. The board, with the exception of four of the five Orono members, voted last week to eliminate the principal positions and replace them with one K-8 principal to serve both schools.

Also on Orono’s list is the reinstatement of Asa Adams’ guidance counselor to full time, restoring the physical education teacher and covering supplies.

Among the many concerns for representatives was how cutting or reinstating a teaching position might affect class sizes, a difficult thing to predict with fluctuating enrollment numbers in schools of varied sizes.

“I have a hard time supporting an administrator over keeping a teacher in the classroom,” said Lisa Buck, the lone Orono member who voted in favor of eliminating the principal positions.

It’s a time of uncertainty for the school district, which is made up of Veazie, Glenburn and Orono schools. Veazie and Glenburn residents each voted overwhelmingly Tuesday night to begin the withdrawal process from the district.

The board, district administrators and members of the public all have acknowledged that the cuts are difficult but that not every position or program can be saved.

“If you have to make a decision, you have to make a decision.” Orono representative Leo Kenney said. “There’s not an infinite amount of money.”

During the public comment session, Sally Brooker of Orono questioned why Asa Adams was having its physical education program cut to four days per week while Orono Middle School’s physical education was on the list to be restored to the budget.

“How do you make the determination that one [specialist] is more valuable than another?” Brooker, a teacher at Asa, asked the board. “I haven’t seen any of the Asa Adams recommendations given full attention. The priority should be students and I’m just not seeing that.”

Board Chairwoman Alison Mitchell said tough decisions have to be made and that these cuts have been difficult on everyone.

“What we need right now is to work together and not be divisive,” Mitchell said with a wavering voice as she held back tears. “Don’t shoot the messenger, we’re doing the best we can.”

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