VEAZIE, Maine — Town and school officials are clashing over a plan to slash local funding for next year’s school budget.
Veazie’s school superintendent warned Wednesday night of the dire consequences that would result from the Town Council’s plan to reduce the local share of the 2015-2016 budget from $2.7 million to $2.2 million and offset lost revenue with Regional School Unit 26’s withdrawal “settlement” funds.
The council plan came to light about a week and a half ago, when residents received a special edition of the town newsletter that contained what school officials maintain are factual errors.
At issue is the direction given in the newsletter by town leaders to spend all of the school’s fund balance and somehow cut another half a million dollars, Superintendent Rick Lyons said during a special school board meeting that drew at least 60 people.
In an overview of the board’s proposed $4.2 million gross budget, down roughly $7,200 from this year’s budget, Lyons noted school officials already have eliminated a classroom teaching position, the equivalent of two education tech posts, the curriculum stipend and contingency funding for one out-of-district placement.
School officials, however, can’t alter out-of-district placements because they are required to provide them for students with severe behavioral and emotional difficulties.
They also can’t change transportation and maintenance costs and contracted salary and benefit expenses, leaving them little wiggle room in other budget areas, so cutting another $500,000, as the town council intends, would have “very drastic” effects, Lyons said.
“We would eliminate another classroom teacher. We would eliminate all middle school sports and extracurricular activities. We would eliminate middle school foreign language,” he said.
“We would eliminate classroom music, instrumental music, art instruction, physical education and health, guidance, technology and library. Those would all be eliminated,” he said, adding, “the theme here are your support services — maintaining the integrity of your classroom teachers but not having the support services.”
The budget cuts would not end there, Lyons said, adding meeting the council’s mandate also would mean reductions in speech and language services and the literacy specialist’s service.
School officials also would have to take a hard look at technology hardware, books, supplies and building repairs, he said.
“Let me make this point. If we did that, we wouldn’t be in compliance with the law. We would have to ask the state for a waiver,” he said, citing the requirements of Title 20-A Section 6209, which established the Maine Learning Results.
The law requires, among other things, student proficiencies in such areas as English language arts, world languages, health and physical education and performing arts, to name a few.
Faculty must have endorsements in those content areas in order to teach them.
“They would have to be integrated into the classrooms by trained certified classroom teachers, so we would have to look at that with a very careful eye if we went down that road,” he said.
Attendees who spoke during the meeting either supported Veazie Community School, which some said was the reason they moved to Veazie, or sought clarification on various budget items, figures or terms. None spoke in support of the council’s plan.
After learning there might be problems with the school budget figures in the town newsletter, Council Chairwoman Tammy Perry said over the weekend the school budget would be discussed at the council’s April 27 meeting and councilors asked the school board attend.
She further said the town stands behind the figures presented in the newsletter.
The town’s plan is to reduce what locals contribute to the $4.2 million school budget by dropping the local allocation from $2.7 million to $2.2 million, and offsetting the school’s revenue loss by using $500,000 from the $866,860 in “settlement” funds received this year from the separation from RSU 26.
In separate referendums in November 2012, residents of Glenburn and Veazie — two of the three towns that formerly made up RSU 26 — voted to pull out of the school district they formed less than three years before, leaving Orono as the only member. Lyons, who also is superintendent for RSU 22 in Hampden, was hired in mid-2013.
“With this recommendation, the school retains $366,860 of the RSU settlement and the town captures $500,000,” the newsletter states.
Lyons, however, said the so-called “settlement funds” actually are operating and carry-forward costs.
Town officials also stated in the newsletter that “the school will not be required to decrease their overall budget and will be able to use their reserves to make up the difference.”
Lyons said that was not true without serious cuts at the school. He said the school has about $200,000 in the fund balance account, about half of what the auditor suggests.
At the end of the roughly hour-long meeting, school board Chairman Gavin Batchelder noted that voters will have the final say on the budget at the town meeting in June.
“This is a democratic process and we’re going to have a difference of opinions. You can support the local [allocation] for the schools or you can not support it,” he said.
“But whatever decision you make, it should be based upon the facts and you need to know this fact: The council’s math does not work. The [town’s] newsletter is not right.”