Rockland-area school board split on depth of cuts

Posted April 29, 2014, at 12:15 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Michael Wilhelm asked Rockland-area school board members Monday night to give him direction on what cuts they wanted prior to final action on the spending package Thursday evening. But the board was nearly evenly split on how far the reductions should go.

“That’s clear as mud for you,” board member Loren Andrews of Cushing said Monday night to the interim superintendent for Regional School Unit 13.

The board will be faced Thursday evening with a wide range of options on the budget, including leaving it at the same level as 2013-2014, or cutting numerous positions including foreign languages for younger students, librarians for the lower grades, and having one principal oversee both high schools.

The only certainty that came out of the two-hour meeting was that taxpayers will be paying more property taxes next year for the school budget.

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The currently proposed budget is nearly $27.6 million, about $300,000 more than the 2013-2014 budget. The increase is due to wage increases expected to be given to school staff for the current year and 2014-2015. The board also is scheduled to vote Thursday evening on a new labor contract with the Seacoast Education Association, which represents teachers and staff in the school system. Terms of that deal will not be released until after the vote. Employees have been working without a contract since last summer.

As the budget stands now, the average tax increase to the six communities in RSU 13 would be 6.5 percent.

Two weeks ago, Wilhelm offered a package of proposed staff cuts to help reduce the increase. Among the jobs he proposed eliminating were an industrial technology position at the middle schools, two foreign language teaching positions, two librarians who serve kindergarten through seventh-grade students, a social worker position at South School, an industrial technology educational technician, an administrative assistant at Oceanside High School West and an educational technician at Oceanside West’s library. The plan also called for not filling the soon-to-be vacant Oceanside High School East principal position but letting another administrator oversee the school, and not filling an English position at Oceanside East for the first semester.

Since that meeting, the interim superintendent also has recommended not filling the business manager position that will become vacant, buying one bus instead of the two that had been scheduled, and eliminating coaching positions for golf and tennis.

Board Chairman Steve Roberts said he will support all the cuts.

Board member Esther “Tess” Kilgour said the board should not micromanage the superintendent but instead tell him what percentage increase it wants in taxes and then let him determine how to reach that mark.

But Wilhelm said the board should indicate what it wants to stay or go. He pointed out that he will be gone when this budget goes into effect but the board members will still be here.

Andrews, and board members Sally Carleton, Marla McGeady and George Emery said they opposed cutting foreign languages, middle school industrial technology, and the librarians.

KIlgour said there are fewer students in the district than when it was formed a few years ago. She said the public cannot absorb a 6.5 percent increase.

Board member Sherman Hoyt of St. George said one reason there were fewer students is because the district keeps cutting essential positions and parents send their children elsewhere.

Following Thursday’s vote, registered voters of the six communities will be able to attend the districtwide budget meeting and adopt or revise the board’s recommended budget. That meeting is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 27, at Oceanside East.

That budget would then go on the June 10 ballot in the six communities for a yes or no vote.

 

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