February 24, 2019
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Howland-area school district rebounds after cutting 29 jobs, taking out loan

LAGRANGE, Maine — Tight management and the cutting of 29 positions have taken School Administrative Unit 31 from fiscal precariousness a year ago that necessitated a $1.1 million loan to the relative security of a $200,000 fund balance, Superintendent Michael Wright said Monday.

Wright credited the school administrative district’s board of directors and the Penobscot Valley Education Association, which is the teachers union, with helping to create the dramatic turnaround.

“Their having an understanding that things needed to change certainly made it easier,” Wright said Monday.

The union in particular has “been fantastic,” Wright said. “A few people had issues, but there were several people who came in [to work] to donate a day’s pay.”

Wright discovered serious budgeting and accounting problems shortly after his SAU 41, the former School Administrative District 41, consolidated with the former SAD 31 on July 1, 2011. He said that school leaders gradually had created the deficit by projecting revenues from undesignated fund balances that never actually occurred.

Wright also learned, he said, that accounts thought to have surpluses actually carried deficits.

The school district, which serves Burlington, Edinburg, Enfield, Howland, Maxfield and Passadumkeag and has its district office in LaGrange, got a $1.1 million Maine Bond Bank loan in December to cover debt and expenses left after a $700,000 savings created by the November layoff of 14 education technicians and three maintenance workers.

The rest of the position cuts occurred through attrition, jobs left unfilled and the combination of several positions this spring, Wright said.

The cuts allowed SAU 31 to reduce the tax burden of its host towns by $101,000 starting July 1 while giving a 2 percent pay raise TO all employees, he said.

Several job cuts were structured to blunt or eliminate their impact on education. For example, a technology director’s position at SAU 31 will be filled by two teachers. An open curriculum coordinator’s position at SAU 31 will be filled by an official from SAU 41, Wright said.

Some school employees took on more work to create savings by allowing the elimination of an assistant principal’s position at Penobscot Valley High School and Hichborn Middle School, Wright said. Teachers had less classroom assistance with the ed tech cuts, Wright said.

SAU 31 residents approved the new school budget with a 134-72 vote during a referendum on June 28, Wright said.

The janitorial service cuts likely will have an impact on the maintenance of the district’s schools that the board will have to examine next year, Wright said. Five janitors remain employed in the district.

The next few years also will be fiscally tight so the school system can increase its balance to a more fiscally sound level, Wright said.

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