PITTSFIELD, Maine — At 4:15 p.m. Wednesday — two hours before a special school board meeting — SAD 53 Superintendent Michael Gallagher found an error in budget calculations that dramatically changed the school board’s 2009-2010 budget projections.
The last-minute discovery that he had inadvertently budgeted $114,000 too much for tuition to Maine Central Institute reduced by that amount what the board has to cut from its budget.
With that good news, Gallagher offered two options to board members to come up with the remaining half-million dollars that must be cut from a $10.5 million budget.
The first option calls for the closure of Burnham Village School and would result in a tax decrease for each of the district’s three towns. The second option would save the school but would raise taxes by $3,132 in Burnham, $72,746 in Pittsfield, and lower taxes in Detroit by $2,440.
Neither option would eliminate the theater or Spanish programs at Warsaw, cuts discussed earlier this month.
Still, Board Chairman Robert Downs admitted, “We still don’t have the final budget figures from the state. [The projected budget] is a best guess of where we stand.”
School board members will be determining which option — or both — they will put before the voters.
The audience Wednesday night was split: half residents, half SAD 53 staff and employees. Their questions centered on the possible closure of the Burnham school and how that would affect the education of their children.
Closing the school would save $88,555 in direct costs and more than $85,000 in transportation costs. Two positions would be cut, a maintenance job and a secretary’s position. The school now contains all the district’s kindergarten classrooms.
Thomas Bertrand, a Pittsfield parent, expressed concerns that one of his sons was part of the “experiment” to house all kindergarten children together and now, four years later, he could be part of a group of fourth-graders that would be sent to Warsaw Middle School if the Burnham school were closed.
But Faye Anderson, principal for pre-kindergarten through fourth-grade, and Sandy Nevens, grades five through eight principal, assured the audience that the kindergarten program has proved invaluable and the fourth-graders should be well served at Warsaw.
“We never make cuts in our budget without taking the consequences into consideration,” Downs said.
Gallagher told the audience that the proposed closure of the school is not just about saving costs.
“The population in our district has declined for the last four years,” he said. “We have lost more than 200 students. The five-year projection shows a continued decline.”
If the Burnham school were closed, pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes would be housed at Manson Park School, grades one through three at Vickery School, and grades four through eight at Warsaw Middle School. Those three schools are located in Pittsfield.
At the start of the meeting, Gallagher shared the dismal state of this year’s budget revenues.
Although the district may not know until mid-May what its exact state revenues will be, Gallagher said he estimates they will be nearly $300,000 less than last year’s.
Each town’s valuation has also increased, which affects state subsidy and local assessment.
Burnham’s valuation rose by 9.58 percent, Detroit’s by 8.53 percent and Pittsfield’s by nearly 13 percent. The state has determined that the total valuation of the district’s towns has risen by more than $39 million.
The school board will meet at 7 p.m. Monday, May 4, to continue budget discussions.