BREWER, Maine — Regional School Unit 15 planning committee members are angry that education costs will increase significantly during the first three years of the new, consolidated school district, under the draft plan they will submit to the state this week.
During their meeting last Thursday, “we had to review the cost increases and they were substantial,” Kyle Casburn, chairman of the committee planning the new district, said Monday.
While consolidating the central offices of the school units in the proposed district would save about $400,000, those savings would be more than offset by projected increases of $1.94 million in other expenses.
Casburn said the projected net increase for the 10 communities involved would total nearly $1.6 million during the 2010-11 school year.
“So much for the cost savings, ” he said.
The estimated costs also increase by a similar net amount of about $1.4 million in 2011-12, he said.
Brewer is working with Dedham, Orrington, the SAD 63 communities of Holden, Eddington and Clifton, and the CSD 8 communities of Aurora, Amherst, Great Pond and Osborn, to create RSU 15 under the state’s school consolidation law.
The budget projections are based on assumptions that once the new RSU 15 district is formed, the salaries of teachers, education technicians, office, janitorial and other school employees would become uniform districtwide.
It’s a well-known fact that teachers and staffers in Brewer make considerably more than those working in the nine neighboring communities in the planned RSU 15, and increasing salaries for the outlying communities is causing the increases, Casburn said.
“There will be pressure to bring those salaries up to Brewer’s rates,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to go the other way. The difficult piece for Brewer is they have to assume 42 percent of that increase so it’s a double whammy for them.”
The costs of the new district would be split among the 10 communities with 50 percent based on student population and 50 percent based on property values. Brewer has the largest number of students and the highest property values.
While Brewer would see the largest increase, all communities in the RSU would see higher costs for education.
“It illustrates the reality that the only way there is going to be any cost savings … will be through staff reductions, building closures and increasing class sizes,” he said.
Those three items made committee members hot under the collar, Casburn said, especially those representing Brewer.
“The costs to Brewer far exceeds its penalty” for not joining the proposed RSU, which is $244,076, Superintendent Daniel Lee said Monday.
The state has set Friday as the deadline to submit consolidation plans, to avoid paying a fine. State Department of Education Commissioner Susan Gendron, who has said she would issue a response within a week, will review the RSU 15 plan.
“She could send it back to us and say, ‘This doesn’t fly. You have to show savings,’” Lee said. “It’s really up to the com-missioner to determine when it’s ready to go before voters.”
The RSU 15 planning committee is scheduled to meet again Dec. 4 “to address the commissioner’s concerns,” Casburn said.
Jan. 27 is the date residents in the 10 communities are expected to vote by referendum about whether they want to join the proposed RSU.
Committee members knew all along that the financial numbers would not look favorable, “but it was actually worse than we thought,” Casburn said.
He added later, “There was anger directed back at the commissioner and governor for making us go through this exercise when we knew where we were going to end up.”