BREWER, Maine — A small squad of cheerleaders dressed in Witches orange attended Monday’s special school board meeting to quietly root for the survival of their sport, which had been placed on the chopping block to save money.
The meeting was held to discuss the fiscal year 2010-11 school budget, which when presented in May included eliminating high school football cheering, junior varsity cheering and middle school football. The proposed budget cuts also include not filling two high school teaching positions, and eliminating a second-grade teacher, five special education technician positions, and two library education technicians.
“Things are difficult right now financially,” Superintendent Daniel Lee said to kick off his presentation.
Debbie Parkhurst, whose daughter is a cheerleader, spoke for the group of cheerleaders and basically asked that the school board consider “de-funding” the two cheering programs instead of eliminating them. The school would have to fund part of the programs, but the move would allow students and parents to raise the rest of the money needed to keep the programs going. Both programs now cost about $8,000 total.
“I think it’s a big mistake to eliminate [cheerleading],” she said. “It think it would be far-reaching.”
School board chairman Mark Farley agreed and asked for a motion to de-fund the fall and junior varsity cheerleading programs, which was unanimously endorsed by the board.
The rest of the proposed budget cuts or adjustments, which total $1.14 million, and the preliminary bottom line for next year were presented by Lee. The numbers will have to be adjusted again to factor in the de-funded cheering programs.
When Lee presented the budget, he first explained that the bottom line is inflated by $2.7 million in construction funds for the new elementary-middle school, which are funneled through the district.
By looking at the numbers, it appears “our budget is up 7 percent, but that 7 percent is a misleading number,” he said. “In actuality, our budget is down 1.4 percent.”
By looking at the figures without the construction funds, the budget comes in at $16,716,468, which is $223,434 less than last year. With the construction funds, the budget is nearly $19.5 million.
The preliminary plans include not replacing a retiring high school science teacher and not renewing a one-year high school math teaching position, as well as combining freshman and JV football, eliminating some stipends, and de-funding JV ice hockey by nearly $11,000.
Brewer Youth Football, which will be run by a local organization of parents and supporters, will replace the eliminated middle school football program, principal Bill Leithiser said.
“They’ll play the same teams and have the same schedules,” he said. “Nothing will change.”
The proposed cuts and plans to move $200,000 from the undesignated fund balance eliminates the need to ask residents for more money, Lee said.
“We have kept the city appropriation the same as last year,” he said. “It’s not the best of things but we’ve managed to keep as many jobs as we can … protect the integrity of the classroom [and] keep teacher-student ratios” low.
Leithiser said people need to start to prepare for major cuts next year, which is when federal stimulus funds will no longer be around. The proposed budget for next year includes $380,894 in stimulus funds.
“The reality here is we’re looking at some very tough times,” he said. “We’re eliminating 10 classes” at the middle school. “This is bad and it’s probably going to get worse in the next year. We really need to protect the core things.”