LINCOLN, Maine — RSU 67 administrators are casting a worried eye at Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC as they start assembling a new budget and work toward hiring Interim Superintendent Raymond Freve’s replacement, school board Chairwoman Rebecca Hanscom said Thursday.
“We are assessing all of our options right now,” Hanscom said of RSU 67, which serves Chester, Lincoln and Mattawamkeag. “With the mill [laying off 200 workers and ceasing paper but not tissue production], we are being thoughtful about the finances of our district.
“We have to have that mill in our minds as we assess our budget,” she added.
Prompted by an explosion that destroyed the mill’s pulp-making capability in November and international competition that caused the mill to lose a tissue-making contract, the layoffs occurred in December. About half the mill’s workforce was cut. The mill’s three tissue machines are still running, mill officials have said.
Town leaders are in negotiations with mill managers over a tax abatement request but have declined to comment on the details. Town Manager William Lawrence announced late last month that the town would be trying to cut its 2014-15 fiscal year budget by as much as $600,000, or 15 percent, in response to the mill layoffs.
School administrators haven’t yet set any such goal. They are prioritizing their financial needs now so that, if cuts must occur, the school board can act appropriately and quickly, Freve said. They hope to begin the formal budget process in April and have their budgeting needs finalized in May so that the board will have little or no adjusting to do when the state’s revenue-sharing budget is set in June.
“We have become very sensitive to the bottom line [since the layoffs],” Freve said. “We have asked for the needs of the schools in order of priority, so if we have to roll back, we won’t have to go back to the whole budgeting process.”
The school system operates now on a $12.05 million budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which ends June 30. It has 1,103 students enrolled, a school official said. It had 1,097 in April and 1,120 in October 2012. That’s the month the Maine Department of Education typically logs school enrollments, which can vary weekly.
According to the Education Department website, RSU 67’s enrollment has declined since the 2009-10 school year, when it was 1,209 students. The school system had 1,186 and 1,137 students in 2010-11 and 2011-12, respectively.
A new superintendent, Hanscom said, would probably be coming aboard in April, with much of the budget work already done.
Besides replacing Freve, the board is looking to replace Ella P. Burr Elementary School Principal Rachel Bousquet. Appointed by Freve’s predecessor, Denise Hamlin, Bousquet left for another job in December, Freve said.