FORT KENT, Maine — SAD 27 School board members will vote Tuesday on a cost saving measure that would move grades seven and eight from the Fort Kent Elementary School building into a wing of the neighboring high school, according to Superintendent Tim Doak.
That meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. in the high school library but may be moved to the gymnasium if more seating is needed.
It’s just one of several major steps the district is looking at to produce a budget with minimum taxpayer impact in the wake of shrinking state revenue, Doak said earlier this week.
At Tuesday’s meeting, board members also will discuss a plan to close one or more district elementary school buildings and relocating various district and school offices.
Like school districts around the state, SAD 27 is attempting to calculate its Fiscal Year 2013-2014 budget without knowing the extent of municipal funding cuts coming out of Augusta.
Under a proposed biennium budget from the governor’s office, cuts directly affecting municipalities and school departments include elimination of municipal revenue sharing, funneling of commercial vehicle excise tax payments directly to the department of transportation, elimination of the Homestead Exemption Act, further curtailments of aid for general education, and transfer of 63 percent of responsibility for teacher retirement funding over to the school districts.
“This [budget] situation is the worst I’ve seen yet,” Doak said. “For us to have to lean on the taxpayers even a little bit more is not what we want to do.”
Given the possible budget scenarios, Doak and SAD 27 Director of Finance and Projects Lucie Tabor said everything is on the table at this point.
“The original budget we came up with was $1.5 million over last year,” Tabor said. “We knew that would not fly so we brought it back down to last year’s numbers.”
That preliminary $13.5 million Fiscal Year 2013-14 budget was reworked by the school board down to the previous year’s $12.1 million, an amount that could drop another $160,000 if the states ends up funding 100 percent of the teacher retirement fund this year.
“There are still a lot of unknowns,” Doak said.
What is known, he said, is moving the 133 seventh and eighth graders from the elementary school building over to community high school next fall will not only save $120,000, it makes solid educational and logistical sense.
A majority of those savings would come from reduction of at least two teachers, possibly three, at the elementary school with current high school faculty members teaching some of the the middle school classes.
Overall, SAD 27 is looking at staffing cuts districtwide that include five teachers and three ed techs totaling $332,000.
The newly vacated space at the elementary school would house the district’s technology center and activities, Doak said.
“Right now the high school is at 55 percent capacity,” he said. “This will better utilize space.”
In addition, the move will allow those middle school age students access to the high school’s full-size gymnasium, stage area, band room, soccer field, library and weight room, all of which the superintendent said are larger and better equipped than those at the elementary school.
“This is going to be like going to a whole new school for these students,” Doak said. “These younger students will be in their own part of the school on a separate bell schedule from the rest of the high school and will have their own lunch period.”
In other cost saving moves for the district, the board is proposing a shift in the pre-K and kindergarten schedule so that students would attend school all day, but not every day.
“This would eliminate our noon bus runs,” Doak said, adding that the change would result in $70,000 savings to the district.
Other proposed cost saving measures include $393,000 through deferred capital improvements and cuts to extracurricular programs of $8,000.
With the funding future looking just as bleak for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, Doak and Tabor said the subject of closing one or more of the district’s four elementary schools must again be examined.
All of those schools, Doak said, are operating well under student population capacity with the school in Fort Kent at 69 percent, Eagle Lake at 34 percent, St. Francis at 19 percent and Wallagrass at 50 percent.
“A year out from now we may be proposing a plan to close a school or schools,” Doak said. “If things don’t improve, we could be doing it again in 2015 and 2016.”
Tabor and Doak said they hope the board will vote on the full proposed budget in May with a district budget meeting tentatively planned for June.