MACHIAS, Maine — It’s budget season in the Machias Bay Area School System and AOS 96 Superintendent Scott Porter is on the road again.
Porter spends most of April and May each year presenting proposed budgets to the 11 individual communities that he serves: Machias, Machiasport, East Machias, Cutler, Roque Bluffs, Jonesboro, Whitneyville, Marshfield, Northfield, Whiting and Wesley.
Wednesday night, he was in Machias and, after a lengthy review, the Board of Selectmen agreed to support the proposed $4.47 million budget.
“We would have liked it to have been flat,” Board Chairman Aubrey “Skip” Carter said, but acknowledged that the town’s $46,000 increase for 2013-2014 was due to the cost of replacing the heating system in the high school gymnasium.
Porter said the AOS total tax commitment will be as close to flat-funded as he can get.
“I think we have fiscally responsible budgets,’’ he said. “There is a fine line between keeping a trim budget and keeping a high-quality education.”
Porter said salaries and benefits have been tentatively negotiated with teachers’ union members and “they aren’t even getting their normal step increases.”
Although not all the towns’ school budgets are complete, Porter said taxes for schools should remain flat at Machiasport, East Machias and Wesley. He said that maintenance, special education and contracted services are key to all the budgets but that the lion’s share of costs are in personnel. “A full 80 percent of our costs are people,” he said.
“This is the toughest year the state has ever seen,” Porter said. “The funding formula is just not delivering enough money and now the well has really gone dry. You are going to see large districts that once had plenty of money, they are going to be struggling.” He said Brewer and Belfast were two examples. “Belfast is going to have a $2.8 million shortfall,” he said. “Brewer will raise taxes by 1.5 percent.”
Because of the nature of an AOS — an alternative organizational structure — Porter actually creates 12 separate budgets, one for each AOS town and one for the central office. Under an AOS system, each member community has its own school board and retains local control over operations that are not shared, such as administrative services. The stack of individual binders on the AOS budgets is nearly three feet tall.
“Together, the AOS 96 budgets total about $13 million,” he said, and they range from Machias at $4.47 million — the largest — to Wesley at $200,000 — the smallest. Even with the separate budgets, the 11 communities include 8 schools and share the expenses of a curriculum director, special education and the central office.
Porter said the AOS is an incredible amount of work but he firmly believes it is the only way to operate.
“RSUs have proven to be a disaster,” Porter said Thursday. “The way we did it — an AOS — is so much more workable. This is local control at its best.”
“In Maine, everyone likes to know that they are paying their bill for their students in their towns,” the superintendent said. “It is a fair and equitable system.’’
Porter said he meets with each town’s school committee and selectmen ahead of budget creation “so there are no surprises.”
More information on AOS 96 can be found at www.aos96.org.