RSU 19 looking forward after $2.8 million loan approved by voters

Posted March 17, 2013, at 1:58 p.m.

NEWPORT, Maine — Regional School Unit 19 Superintendent Greg Potter said he was relieved after a $2.8 million stabilization loan was approved by voters a week ago, but there is still more work to do.

Voters in the eight towns that represent the district approved the loan 1,815 to 1,634 on March 8. The next step is securing the loan from a lending institution, said Potter.

Because of serious errors in previous budgets, RSU 19 has a $3.6 million shortfall this school year. The district already has cut $1.6 million from the budget for this school year. RSU 19’s board of directors previously voted to ask residents for a $2.8 million stabilization loan. The district would use $1.5 million to repay its revenue anticipation loan to Androscoggin Bank, while the other $1.3 million would be used to pay bills. It will be a 10-year repayment.

The district is checking with lenders to find the best rate for a loan and see if any will allow towns to pay back their share of the loan early, said Potter. Securing the loan may take a few weeks to a month, he said.

“It was mostly relief [after learning the loan had passed],” said Potter. “It’s obviously been a very long haul. I’m just happy that we have been over a major hurdle.”

No additional cuts are planned, he said, and the school’s schedule should remain unchanged. Policy changes aimed at preventing future problems such as the ones that landed the district into financial crisis are being reviewed by the board of directors.

Potter has been working on next year’s budget, he said. The board of directors will should make a decision on the final spending plan in late April with a regional meeting in May and a referendum vote in June.

Potter started as the district’s superintendent on July 2 after former superintendent Bill Braun retired. Potter had previously been the superintendent at RSU 12 of Somerville.

With being new, Potter had a disadvantage in getting the loan passed early on, said Candi Russell, a third-grade teacher at Newport Elementary School.

“Honestly, the first time the loan came around, as a taxpayer and parent, I was very leary,” said Russell. “Greg was new and we didn’t know him. To all of a sudden be unloaded with these huge deficits … I’m thinking, ‘Wait a minute, I paid my taxes, where’s the money?’”

Russell said Potter has earned respect through dealing with the budget crisis and being consistent with his information.

“We’re feeling very confident in Mr. Potter and see how so much of his time has been dealing with the budget errors,” said Randall. “We want to see how he’s going to do as a leader to lead us in the right direction academically, not just financially.”

Amanda Peterson of St. Albans, an organizer of RSU 19 Parent and Community Group, agreed with Russell.

“We’re more confident in him and believe he’ll continue to right the ship,” said Peterson.

Both Peterson and Russell said people in the community should be more involved with what’s going on at RSU 19.

“I think everybody has to stay involved. You can’t [complain] about where the money has gone or hasn’t gone without being involved,” said Peterson. “If you want to know, you have to go.”

“I just think it just proves as parents and as a community, if we’re going to give our children the best education we can, we need to stay involved,” said Jennifer Watson of Palmyra, a parent with a child in the district.

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