June 04, 2020
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RSU 20 board may close schools to balance budget

BELFAST, Maine — Finding $1.5 million to cut from Regional School Unit 20’s budget for the next fiscal year will look less like minor surgery and more like amputation was the message at Thursday evening’s school board budget workshop.

At least one and possibly two elementary schools likely will be closed so the school district can make up a shortfall that could grow to more than $2 million in the unit’s $33.5 million budget, according to Superintendent Bruce Mailloux.

RSU 20 has roughly 2,600 students.

“It’s change, and change comes hard,” Mailloux said after the workshop. “I understand the need for closing an elementary school, because we have a large number of small classes. My goal in closing a school is to minimize disruption to students and families and at the same time to save as much money as we can.”

Mailloux told the RSU 20 board of directors that he reviewed every school in the district before recommending that they consider closing the Stockton Springs Elementary School, which has 80 pupils. Those children could be absorbed into Searsport Elementary School, he said, and such a move potentially would save nearly $400,000.

“Splitting students between multiple schools will not be well-received by parents,” Mailloux said to the board.

Director Denise Dakin of Stockton Springs said she had doubts about this recommendation.

“Why are we considering closing a school that’s in tip-top shape?” she asked.

Dakin suggested that the district close not one but two schools: Frankfort Elementary School and the Kermit Nickerson Elementary School in Swanville. She said the 85 Frankfort children likely would fit in the Stockton Springs school, and the Swanville students could be bused to Searsport.

Alexa Schweikert, a school board member from Belfast, said she was alarmed about the longer commute for young children.

“None of us like the idea of the kids being on the bus for a long time,” she said. “I just can’t advocate for longer bus rides.”

In addition to closing an elementary school, directors suggested other ways the school district might be able to reduce its budget, including:

ä A $100,000 cut in extracurricular activities, including elimination of some freshman sports programs at Belfast Area High School.

ä Eliminating one bus mechanic to save $45,000.

ä $50,000 less for field trips.

ä Reorganizing Kermit Nickerson Elementary School by combining four classes into two to save $100,000.

ä Eliminating two full-time library positions to save $76,400.

Mailloux said the $1.5 million reduction in state general purpose aid for the school district would not be the end of the budget trouble for the 2010-11 fiscal year.

“We still have to deal with any increases in medical insurance, salaries, cost of fuel,” he said. “Any of those other increases could cost potentially as much as $2 million.”

The RSU 20 directors also had a lively conversation about classroom size and whether to continue offering Advanced Placement courses. Director Peggy Andrews of Belfast pointed out that the administration said the district would not save any money by cutting the courses.

“Who are you trying to educate — the middle?” she asked. “AP is very important to people who need to be challenged.”

Ultimately, directors asked Mailloux’s office to look more closely at the three schools being seriously considered for closure to determine cost savings and other options.

The next RSU 20 board meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 9, at the Belfast Area High School library.

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