Rockland-area school board OKs budget cutting teaching positions, despite students’ pleas

Posted May 02, 2013, at 10:14 p.m.
Last modified May 03, 2013, at 11:38 a.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — The Regional School Unit 13 Board gave final approval Thursday night to a $27 million budget that cuts teaching positions and hikes taxes.

The board rejected a request by a group of art students from Oceanside High School East to save an art teacher position at the high school. The art position generated the most discussion at the meeting.

Student Afton Hupper said she could not see how the position could be cut in a community like Rockland where art is so important. She noted Main Street in Rockland is lined with art galleries.

Student Natasha Shacklett said she credits the high school’s art program for her upcoming graduation from Oceanside.

Another Oceanside student, Lizzie Lombardo, said the elimination would diminish the chance for students to get into higher education. She pointed out that her art education at the high school has allowed her to receive an $11,000 annual merit scholarship to the Pratt Institute art college.

Despite the plea for saving the position, the board said it had to have faith in the decision of the administration, which came up with the budget proposals that meet the demand of the board to keep the tax increase to a minimum. The vote to approve the budget was 8-3, with Rockland board member Carol Bachofner and St. George board members George Emery and Sherman Hoyt voting against the spending package.

“The board has been struggling with what has been an impossible task of balancing good education with fairness to taxpayers,” Hoyt said.

He said he opposed the budget because it was a regressive one that continues the district’s trend of the past few years of cutting teaching positions.

The board’s vice chairman, Loren Andrews of Cushing, said that while he voted for the budget, he considers it the worst he has ever seen.

The $27,017,562 budget represents an increase of 2 percent, or $554,862, from the voter-approved 2012-2013 budget. The amount of property taxes to pay for the budget is up $502,115 for the six communities of RSU 13. Rockland will be shouldering the largest portion of that increase, with its payments to the school district projected to jump 4 percent, or $283,936, bringing the annual cost to Rockland to $7.8 million. The tax increase to Owls Head will be 6 percent ($139,000), reaching $2.4 million. Thomaston, Cushing and South Thomaston will see much smaller increases. St. George will see its assessment to the district decline by $57,191.

The greatest number of staff cuts will come from Oceanside High School East in Rockland. The budget calls for the elimination of the classroom art teaching position, a social studies teacher and a resource room teacher, and the reduction of a technology teacher to half-time for Oceanside High School East. A social studies teaching position at Oceanside West in Thomaston is also proposed for elimination, as well as an interventionist teacher being reduced to half-time at Oceanside West.

Three elementary classroom teachers would also be cut — two at the South School in Rockland and one at the St. George School.

Superintendent Lew Collins said, however, that with retirements he does not expect any teachers to lose their jobs. The teachers will be shifted to vacant positions. The high school art teacher, for instance, will be shifted to an elementary art position.

Bachofner criticized the shift, saying that art at the elementary level with hand-shaped turkeys and Pilgrim puppets can’t be compared to the fine arts taught at the high school.

The budget does add a half-time development director.

A half-time Maine Learning Technology Initiative instructor and a half-time webmaster position that had been proposed to be added to the district staff were cut by the administration prior to Thursday night’s meeting.

The districtwide budget meeting in which residents of the six communities can attend and vote on the spending package, and make additions or cuts, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 28, at Oceanside High School East’s auditorium.

Voters will then go to the polls in the six communities on Tuesday, June 11, to either accept or reject the budget approved from the May 28 meeting.

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that a half-time webmaster and half-time Maine Learning Technology Initiative instructor were included in the budget. Those two positions had been cut from the budget earlier by the administration.

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