ROCKLAND, Maine — Next week, residents of the five towns that make up Regional School Unit 13 will take their first vote on a proposed school budget that comes with tax increases and layoffs.
The RSU 13 school board approved a $31,176,500 budget for the 2019-20 academic year. That proposal represents an increase of about 7 percent from the current budget year. The increase is due to a combination of factors, including a spike in special education costs and a reimbursement repayment to the state after the district mistakenly received too much state aid last year.
RSU 13 includes Rockland, Thomaston, South Thomaston, Cushing and Owls Head. Overall, the proposed budget represents a 13 percent increase in the local taxpayer contribution.
With the final approval from the school board last week, the budget will go to a public hearing May 23. Whatever budget amount is approved by attendees of that meeting will go on the June 11 ballot for final approval.
To fund the increased budget, each of the five towns served by RSU 13 will see its property tax contributions increase, and the equivalent of about 20 positions across the district have been cut, either through attrition or layoffs.
“This budget gives me indigestion to say the least,” school board vice chair Carol Bachofner said at the final budget meeting last week. “I hate the idea of cutting positions.”
RSU 13 Superintendent John McDondald has said that school officials made cuts wherever they could to lessen the impact on taxpayers. In previous years, the district has been able to use surplus funds to prevent tax increases, but after under budgeting for special education in previous years, there is no surplus to take from.
If the proposed budget passes, Rockland will see its tax contribution increase by $1.6 million, Thomaston’s contribution will increase by $750,000, Cushing’s contribution will increase by about $430,000, South Thomaston’s contribution will increase by about $436,000 and Owls Head’s contribution will increase by about $549,000.
“We’ve really taken a razor blade and sliced down as much as we can,” school board member Doug Curtis Jr. said. “I do think we need to have the balance between what is fair to our students, what is fair to our staff and what is fair to the taxpayer.”
To lessen the impact on taxpayers, the board has eliminated the equivalent of about 20 positions across the district. While some of those positions are being eliminated through retirements, resignations or the elimination of vacant positions, some employees will likely be laid off.
The positions being cut that could result in layoffs include three pre-kindergarten teachers, two pre-kindergarten education techs and one pre-kindergarten administrative assistant, all currently employed at the South School.
The district is partnering with Penquis to operate its pre-kindergarten program for the next school year. McDonald has said it would be up to Penquis whether it will keep the district employees.
Other proposed position cuts include a middle school science position; a part-time high school social studies position; a second grade teaching position at Thomaston Grammar School; and a third grade teaching position, an administrative assistant position and a part-time education tech position all at Ash Point Elementary School.
With staff retirements and departures being announced right up until the end of the school year, McDonald said he hopes that some of the employees affected by layoffs could move into other positions within the district if they become open.
The May 23 public hearing will start at 6 p.m. at Oceanside High School in Rockland.