Howland leaders concerned about school budget

Posted March 16, 2014, at 6:36 p.m.

HOWLAND, Maine — The Board of Selectmen wants to meet with other municipal members of SAU 31 to discuss how the Howland-area school administrative unit’s proposed budget might affect the budgets and taxes of member towns, Town Manager Tracey Hutton said Friday.

Selectmen “are concerned about the budget and how it will affect the tax rates so they thought it would be beneficial for the towns to get together,” Hutton said.

The board sent out an invitation to the other SAU 31 towns of Burlington, Enfield, Edinburg, Maxfield and Passadumkeag on March 4 but have yet to get any replies, Hutton said. No meeting date has been set.

“It has only been a week and some of these towns’ [leaders] don’t meet that often,” Hutton said.

SAU 31 Superintendent Michael Wright said that administrators are just beginning the formal budget process and that it is “far too early to project increases or decreases.”

The school’s budget was $6.3 million for the 2012-13 school year, according to the Maine Department of Education website. Figures for the ongoing year were not available on Friday.

“There are many factors that are unknowns at this point. Salary negotiations, health insurance increases, fuel costs,” Wright added. “There are no frills or extras in the school budget. The budget deficit a few years back caused us to reduce staffing greatly. We are still feeling the effects of this.”

He warned against town leaders having a knee-jerk reaction to the school budget when it is finished.

“I will encourage the [school] board to reject the demands of those who would simply ask to cut school budgets without knowledge as to how those reductions would negatively impact students,” Wright said. “We cannot solve all community financial challenges through school budget avenues.”

“We will, as always, look at achieving a balance. This is a balance between offering a high-quality education for our students with the ability of the community to support it,” Wright added. “Ultimately, the community will decide to approve or not approve the budget. The final decision does not lay with the board. The board will ultimately pass along a responsible budget to the voters.”

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