BELFAST, Maine — RSU 20 officials trying to pare the next school year’s budget down into something that the region’s taxpayers may accept are looking at the possibility of eliminating teachers, middle school sports and extracurricular activities such as music.
“Everything is on the table,” Superintendent Brian Carpenter said Thursday afternoon. “It’s just a matter of what the board wants to do.”
During this week’s regular RSU 20 director’s meeting, personnel discussed the economic realities that are leaving the eight-town district with a budget shortfall of $3.8 million. Part of that shortfall comes from the loss of Frankfort’s school subsidies, Carpenter said. Frankfort is well on its way to leaving RSU 20 and joining SAD 22 — the Hampden, Winterport and Newburgh school district located north of the town — and taking its state subsidies with it.
RSU 20’s budget for the ongoing 2012-2013 school year is $33.3 million, Carpenter said.
For the next school year, the proposed budget now stands at $34.7 million. That sum includes increased costs for insurance, teacher and support staff salaries, and Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed strategy to shift costs for teacher retirement from the state to the local level.
Altogether, property taxpayers in Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Northport, Searsmont, Searsport, Stockton Springs and Swanville will be expected to pay $23.5 million for schools in the next fiscal year. That’s up from $19 million in locally generated revenue this year, according to Carpenter. Belfast, the largest community in the district, is slated right now to pay an additional $3.8 million for schools, he said.
“Revenues are down, student population is down, the valuation of towns is down,” the superintendent said. “It is dire.”
He said that in addition to eliminating all middle school sports programs, school officials are looking at cutting four teaching positions. All likely would be at Belfast Area High School, he said.
“Could there be more? Possibly,” Carpenter said. “We’re looking at the elimination of teachers, not the elimination of programs. Teachers would teach more periods a day, instead of having a study hall.”
He said that the district is less likely to cut teaching positions from Searsport District High School because there are fewer teachers there and cutting one might mean eliminating an entire program. Belfast Area High School, by contrast, has some programs with five or six teachers. Also, Carpenter said eliminating the middle school sports programs is not an ideal solution, either.
“It’s going to increase your drop-out rate, and it’s going to reduce your ability to field a team in the future,” he said. “You’re not going to have a feeder system. If kids aren’t doing it in the middle school and the first time they’re exposed to it is in the high school, it’s going to be difficult.”
Carpenter warned that the cuts are not completed, as the school district looks for ways to make the budget more affordable to the communities.
“It’s going to be drastic,” he said. “And we have to cut more from the budget. We’ll cut whatever we can. We’re going to have to make some tough decisions.”
The RSU 20 budget will be presented to the public at an open meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, June 6, at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast. The public will vote on the budget at that time.