|4/26/2013 1:07:00 PM|
RSU 12 Towns Face Budget Increase Despite $1.8 Million in Proposed Cuts
|RSU 12 Finance Committee Chairman Jerry Nault gives a presentation on the proposed budget at the Sheepscot Valley RSU 12 Board of Directors meeting April 25. (D. Lobkowicz photo)|
By Dominik LobkowiczPotential cuts in the proposed Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit 12 2013-2014 budget affect positions and programs ranging from fine arts to technology to sports but still result in a 6.92 percent increased cost to towns, according to budget documents.
At the district's board of directors meeting April 11, Finance Committee Chair Jerry Nault said the district's current $25.75 million budget would need to increase by around $2 million dollars to continue operating as it does this year.
The $1.8 million in proposed cuts shared at the board's meeting April 25 would limit the budget increase to $639,140 or about 2.48 percent, according to documents.
The percentage increase to the local tax payers is higher than the total increase because the state may be funding a smaller percentage of what they require for essential programs and services than they have in the past, Nault said.
As proposed, 16.7 positions in total would be fully eliminated or partially cut in some fashion, according to the documents. The cuts include 1.5 classroom teachers, one literacy coach, a half-time science coach, three intervention Ed Techs, one central office secretary, one social worker, 3.9 technology integrator positions, a half-time special education secretary, and two and a half special education teachers, reducing the budget by $833,500.
An art position and a music position would both be reduced by 40 percent, and a full-time athletic director-assistant principal position and a foreign language position would reduced by one half, reducing the budget by $116,310.
Board Chair Hilary Holm said many of the staff changes do not eliminate programs, but make staffing levels more equitable across the district's schools.
Everyone would prefer to bring staffing up to the same levels instead of down, but if the cuts do not sit well with people then those people need to contribute to a solution that keeps everyone's property taxes reasonable, Holm said.
When the news about the potential job losses was shared prematurely among the three Wiscasset schools April 25, teachers were in tears and one even began cleaning out her classroom, said board member Mary Myers, in a conversation on April 26.
At the board meeting, the strongest response to the cuts from those in attendance regarded the proposed elimination of the technology integrator positions and their proposed replacement by three computer repair technicians.
District Technology Director Tom Toner said of the three technicians, one would focus on the district's Maine Learning Technology Initiative (the state's laptop program) devices, one would focus on the use of Google Apps in the district, and the third would work on helping teachers continue to integrate technology in their curriculum.
Alida Ciampa, the technology integrator at Windsor Elementary School, said cutting the integrator positions will negatively impact both students and staff.
"Knowing how to use the technology tools is not the same as knowing how to integrate," Ciampa said.
Preparing students to meet standards will require the positions to stay as they are, not be replaced by repair technicians, she said.
The integrators help research sites and programs and help the classroom teachers integrate them, Ciampa said. They also provide tech support, which will suffer if replaced by the technicians, she said.
"It's the difference between continuing a lesson or giving up on it because the technology doesn't work," Ciampa said.
Concerns were raised by staff and parents alike about how important technology is to success, and what teachers will do to integrate new technology that becomes available.
Lori Urquhart, a parent from Alna, said some parents may start sending their students outside the district to schools like Lincoln Academy, which is building a new technology center.
The proposed cuts affect more than just positions, and include the elimination of all middle school and junior varsity sports, $263,400 worth of supplies across the district, a reduction of professional development for teachers, cuts to co-curricular activities, and limits furniture and food service equipment requests, among other things.
When the budget process started, a "dream budget" was created reflecting the things administrators thought would make the most educational success possible, such as math and literacy coaches, social workers, and professional development, Holm said. That budget represented a $4.4 million increase over the current budget, she said.
"We knew that wasn't gonna fly," Holm said.
The proposed budget with $1.8 million in cuts from the district's current operations was an attempt to meet the finance committee's goal of limiting the increase to towns to 5.5 percent, and did not even meet that goal, Holm said in defense of the cuts.
"If the community wants to bring 10 percent to the tax payers, then we can begin to bring things back in," Holm said.
Barbara Skeehan, a board member for Chelsea, said towns have been holding their municipal budgets so tightly already, there is no way she could look anybody in the eye, even with these cuts, and tell them there will be a 6.92 percent increase to the school budget.
"I can't do it," Skeehan said.
Former board member Ralph Hilton, of Alna, asked, "Has the board sat down with all the bargaining units and asked if they'd give any relief?"
"If they want to save the jobs, maybe they could get themselves together," he said.
Holm said all three bargaining units have been asked to consider it, but have not had enough time to respond to the requests.
Westport Island board member Sandra Crehore said the district needs to find another way to deal with the financial situation beside asking the unions to take a hit.
"To ask the teachers to bear the brunt of the economy is not right," Crehore said.
Elizabeth Choate, a former teacher at the Windsor Elementary School, suggested the district look at positions such as the assistant superintendent and a number of maintenance managers for potential savings; positions she says don't even see the students.
"You can cut some big salaries from there," Choate said.
Myers, on April 26, said cutting the assistant superintendent and food service coordinator positions, two positions which are not required, would save the district $170,000.
The food service coordinator does a good job, but the head cooks can do everything she does and central office staff could handle the paperwork, Myers said.
If the proposed cuts go through, Myers said the district stands to lose more students than it already has in recent years.
"From a parent's point of view, I am having a hard time thinking about my eighth grader going to high school in Wiscasset with all of these cuts," Myers said.
Halfway through this school year, her daughter was already looking into what other high schools she could attend and how much they would cost, Myers said.
"My eighth grader, my 14-year-old, is doing that. Her friends are talking about it. They all want to stay in Wiscasset, but they are losing everything," she said.
Holm said the finance committee is looking for feedback and input on the proposed budget, including any areas people would like to see restored, but offered the caution that the budget and any increase will still need to be approved by the voters.
People can email their input to Holm at firstname.lastname@example.org or Nault at email@example.com, Holm said.
The board is expected to adopt a budget at their next meeting on Thursday, May 9 at 6:30 p.m. at Windsor Elementary School. Before voting on the budget in late June, district residents will have the opportunity to increase or decrease budget items at the regional budget meeting, which is scheduled for Saturday, June 8, at 10 a.m., at a location to be determined.
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