June 19, 2018
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Students being hardest hit by failed RSU 19 loan proposal after $750,000 budget cut

Alex Barber | BDN
Alex Barber | BDN
RSU 19 Superintendent Greg Potter
By Alex Barber, BDN Staff

NEWPORT, Maine — Many students of Regional School Unit 19 immediately felt the effect of the district’s failed $3.6 million loan proposal.

Due to serious errors in previous budgets — including the fact that member towns were not billed for their obligations to the school district, RSU 19 has a $3.6 million shortfall this year.

On Wednesday, new superintendent Greg Potter implemented $750,000 in cuts in order to combat the shortfall. The district asked voters to approve a loan to get it through the school year, but on Tuesday voters denied the loan, 3,853 to 3,500.

Seven of the eight towns in the district — Dixmont, Etna, Hartland, Newport, Palmyra, Plymouth and St. Albans — voted down the loan. Corinna was the only town to approve it.

“I was extremely disappointed. I have seven children, five of which are directly affected,” said Palmyra resident Kelly Monk.

Many of the items in the $750,000 package of cuts involve after-school programs and junior varsity sports. Potter said last month that only 17 percent of the district’s budget is capable of being cut because salaries, insurance and many other expenses, by law, must be paid.

Cuts approved by the RSU 19 board of directors included elements of the music program, junior varsity and freshman baseball, JV cheering, all middle school “B” spring sports, all field trips, all after-school activities at Nokomis Regional High School in Newport, boys and girls JV and freshman basketball, JV softball, all boys and girls “B” basketball, transportation to sports, music, and other events, and tens of thousands of dollars in supplies and equipment. Five-and-a-half full-time equivalent support staff positions were also eliminated, along with coaching positions of sports teams that were cut.

Sebasticook Valley Middle School in Newport held tryouts for its basketball teams Wednesday. With no B — or junior varsity — team, many athletes were left wondering what they would do after school.

Monk said her seventh-grade daughter was one of 13 girls who were cut Wednesday, but otherwise would have been selected to the B team.

“She was upset,” said Monk. “It’s hard to explain to the kids that, although it’s not their fault, they’re the ones who are being hit the hardest by the cuts.”

All after-school busing was also a part of Wednesday’s cuts. Some parents said it will be difficult and costly to provide transportation themselves.

Barb Mower, an advertising assistant with the Bangor Daily News and parent of a junior at Nokomis Regional High School in Newport, said her daughter is involved with the music program.

“There are a lot of festivals that are far from the school,” said Mower, of St. Albans. “They’re usually two-day events. It’s hard to go down and back when you would want to stay the night. It’s hard on the kids. You can’t expect parents to pay for everything.”

Monk said a group of parents plan to hold a meeting at the Palmyra Community Center at 6 p.m. Monday in order to discuss ideas that could save RSU 19 money and keep after-school programs.

“We’re going to brainstorm what we can do to fix this so the kids aren’t hurt any more than they already have been,” said Monk, adding that the meeting is open to the public.

Although no one would speak on the record about voting against the loan on Thursday, town leaders recently have said that the taxpayers can’t afford to pay more.

“Look at your school budget vote the last time around. Six out of eight towns voted it down. They weren’t happy the first time around. They’re really not going to be happy this time around,” said St. Albans Board of Selectmen Chairman Jason Gould during an RSU 19 meeting in August. “My point being, the answer of ‘Oh, we’re just going to go to the towns.’ That’s no dice. Because the well is dry. The well has been dry for a number of years, but we continue to dip the bucket in.”

The entire community could be affected by the cuts, not just the kids, said Monk.

After Wednesday’s vote, Monk said she’s looking into alternatives to RSU 19 schools, including John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor.

“People don’t realize that from Tuesday to Wednesday, their home values dropped,” she said. “People don’t want to move to a district that has school issues. People do research [before buying a home].

“I think it [would cost] $50 to $110 [more per year] — 30 cents a day,” Monk added, referring to the tax increase a typical property owner in the district would pay if the loan had passed. “Is that too much to ask so the kids have some incentive to stay in school, stay off drugs and out of trouble? Even if you don’t have kids in the school system, it will eventually affect you.”

Teachers have already felt the effect of the budget freeze, which was instituted before the school year. Teachers are accustomed to buying many of their own supplies, but this year has been much harder, said Jennifer Berce, fifth-grade teacher at Sebasticook Valley Middle School.

“It’s definitely cost me far more than I normally would’ve spent,” said Berce, adding that some parents have been helpful in paying for some supplies. “The kids deserve to have the best education possible.”

Potter said Wednesday that the RSU 19 board of directors will meet on Nov. 20 to discuss another loan proposal.

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