June 19, 2018
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RSU 19’s superintendent lays out scenarios, cuts to address $3M budget deficit

By Alex Barber, BDN Staff

NEWPORT, Maine — Regional School Unit 19 Superintendent Greg Potter laid out a few options for the budget committee to consider Tuesday night as the district battles a deficit of at least $3 million.

Potter addressed members of the budget committee and a few dozen concerned residents from RSU towns Corinna, Dixmont, Etna, Hartland, Newport, Palmyra, Plymouth and St. Albans during the meeting at Nokomis Regional High School.

Just a month after Potter said the district was about $1.9 million in the hole, now he says the district may have to borrow as much as $3.6 million for this school year.

Potter said the school would have to borrow a minimum of $3 million, which doesn’t include unfunded liability, which is mostly teacher pay for the months of July and August. The maximum needed would be $3.6 million, which he said would cover about half of the $1.2 million unfunded liability.

Some banks have expressed interest in working with RSU 19, said Potter, but each bank would like the audit report. Business Manager Jerry Nault said he expects the preliminary audit report by the end of the month.

Any of the borrowing, however, would have to be approved by voters from the eight towns. That’s something Potter said won’t be easy.

The 2012-2013 school budget of more than $23 million was narrowly approved by voters, 776-610.

If residents vote down the potential loan request on November’s ballot, Potter said the district will have to go to plan B — major cuts.

“If the voters in RSU 19 said, ‘No, we’re not going to support it,’ there’s a very real chance that could happen,” said Potter.

He said the district already has managed to save $800,000 through cuts, which include financing the purchase of four school buses instead of buying with cash. Other cuts will be more drastic.

About $140,000 in cuts are proposed in materials and supply items throughout the district. A spending freeze was put in place in July.

Additional maintenance cuts would save $40,000 as well as $30,000 from the music department, which doesn’t include cutting the program or the band.

More than $50,000 would be saved by reducing bus travel, he said, including the elimination sports travel and field trips that aren’t privately funded.

“We felt that kids would still be able to participate [in sports]. Parents and kids would be able to get together to find rides to their events,” said Potter. “We felt we could make it work without actually eliminating the programs.”

Cutting sports programs is not completely off the table, he said.

Also on the chopping block is an American Sign Language teacher and an ed tech, both part-time positions, along with a part-time guidance counselor position which is now vacant. Two full-time equivalent custodial positions and a full-time equivalent secretarial position also would be cut.

The new proposed cuts would total about $750,000 to $800,000. In all, the cuts would exceed $1.5 million, said Potter.

The new cuts would be needed only if the loan is shot down by voters.

The RSU 19 board of directors will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the high school for a workshop to establish and approve a plan to move forward to address the budget crisis.

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