EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Voters will be asked at a town meeting on Tuesday to support a school budget for next year that is $237,787 more than this year’s, officials said Thursday.
The board’s proposed $4.4 million budget increased due to several fixed costs despite some significant cuts, including the elimination of a technology teacher’s position at Schenck High School, Superintendent Quenten Clark said.
Those costs include a 13 percent increase in the East Millinocket School Department’s health insurance and about $109,000 in increased special education fees, Clark said.
“The drivers are all pretty unavoidable,” Clark said Thursday. “To compensate for those, you would have to make serious cuts in the educational programs, which would have significant impact on the students.”
The school system might be in better shape financially than Millinocket’s schools, which will need projected revenues from their China recruiting and education licensing efforts to remain solvent next year, but all Katahdin region schools face the same problems, said Clark and Selectman Mark Scally.
Years of budget cutting and declines in state revenues, local population and economy have finally accumulated to the point where something has to give. Further cuts would harm students’ education, so school leaders have to consider tuitioning students elsewhere, consolidating schools with neighboring towns, or asking taxpayers to accept significant tax increases, Clark and Scally said.
“We can’t afford to keep going up [in spending] while the population goes down,” said Clint Linscott, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.
According to budget documents provided by the school, since the 2011-12 fiscal year, school spending has increased from $3.2 million to the proposed $4.4 million. The budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which lapses June 30, is $4.17 million.
However, Opal Myrick Elementary and Schenck High schools merged and the Opal Myrick building closed in September 2011 as a cost-cutting measure. In 2009-10, town schools had a $3.76 million budget, and the following year, a $3.64 million budget, the documents show.
The town’s population has dropped from 2,557 in the 1970 census to 1,723 in 2010. East Millinocket’s projected student population in September is 209 students, the lowest in town history.
Population predictions compiled by state officials and available at maine.gov show East Millinocket’s population falling to 1,617 in two years, to 1,525 in 2020 and to 1,430 by 2025. Millinocket is expected to lose 500 people and drop to 4,002 in 2015 and to 3,531 by 2020.
“All the communities in the Katahdin region are at a decision point here. It is not just us. Significant change is going to have to be seriously considered,” Clark said. “It will take everybody involved to work together to make it happen.”
The proposed budget includes a proposed tuition increase from Medway, which sends students to Schenck and Opal Myrick, of about $39,000, and a tuition decrease of about $20,000 from Woodville.
The town meeting is set for 6 p.m. at Schenck High’s auditorium, Linscott said, not the town office as is printed in some town notices.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly called a $4.4 million figure a budget increase. That figure is the total budget including the increase in the first paragraph.