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2/19/2014 2:00:00 PM
Draft RSU 40 Budget Up Nearly $1 Million

RSU 40 interim Superintendent Michael Cormier (D. Lobkowicz photo, LCN file)
RSU 40 interim Superintendent Michael Cormier (D. Lobkowicz photo, LCN file)
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By Dominik Lobkowicz

Board members and administrators still have weeks of budget workshops ahead of them, but the current draft budget for RSU 40 for 2014 to 2015 stands at $23.1 million, an increase of $957,740.16 or 4.32 percent over the current year.

The draft is down from a $23.7 million budget proposed in January, according to district documents.

By far, the largest change in the budget is a $709,081.73 or 20.46 percent increase to special education costs.

According to interim Superintendent Michael Cormier, that increase is due to both an increased number of special education students expected to attend school in the district next year, and declining federal grant funding for programs like speech and occupational therapy for such students.

The increase would bring the special education budget to about $4.18 million, nearly half of the $8.6 million proposed for instruction of the district's other students.

According to Business Manager Karla Miller, the district would also see a net $80,000 increase for transportation of those special education students who cannot ride the regular school bus, in addition to the educational increases.

Regular instruction is proposed to increase $270,419.31, or 3.24 percent, largely due to contractual increases to teachers' salaries and benefits approved by the board of directors in December, Cormier said.

"I think that even though it's up, we've got negotiated contracts, it's a fair representation for employees in their salaries and benefits," Cormier said. "Hopefully folks will feel they can be supportive."

Part of the increase to regular instruction at Miller School is due to the addition of a new pre-kindergarten teaching position, which Cormier said will bring in more revenue via state subsidy than the position costs.

Both Miller School and Warren Community School are proposed to start pre-K programs next year.

Each program would take up to 32 students, split into two groups of 16 students that would each attend the program two days a week.

Both classrooms would have one teacher and one educational technician each, and on the fifth day the teachers would make home visits to work with the children's families, Cormier said.

Because each pre-K student counts as a whole student for the purposes of state educational subsidy, the program would bring more money to RSU 40 than it will cost to operate it, Cormier said. "It would actually generate revenue," he said.

Based on the current school year's subsidy, 64 more students would have brought $177,000 more in subsidy if the program had been in place this year, Cormier said.

Cormier said pre-K programs were also considered for the district's three smaller elementary schools - Prescott Memorial School, Union Elementary School, and Friendship Village School - but due to space limitations, sixth graders from those schools would need to be relocated to Medomak Middle School in order to accommodate the programs.

Relocating all sixth-graders to the middle school would save money since fewer sixth-grade teachers would be needed, but with the cost of the pre-K instructors and the need of more administration at the middle school, the prospect would be a wash, Cormier said.

"It would save no money," he said.

The proposal would not make any of the smaller schools any smaller, since it would bring in about the same number of students that would be sent to the middle school, Cormier said.

The programs at Miller and Warren will still be open to families from the district's other towns.

"If families from Friendship, Washington, or Union, want their children to go to pre-K, they would be able to sign up for either Warren or Miller, and if we had too many children signed up we would do a lottery," Cormier said.

Parents from those towns would likely need to provide transportation for their students unless a bus to Miller or Warren already picks up there, he said.

The goal is to ultimately have pre-K available at every school, though only one 16-student group would be run at each of the three smaller schools.

"If you could do that, that's another 48 children, theoretically," Cormier said.

In addition to the additional revenue from the program, establishing pre-K at Warren will not result in an expense increase, Cormier said. Single teaching positions in grades four and five will be eliminated to provide funding for the pre-K teaching position and a teacher who will work in grades four through six to improve student performance in literacy.

"We're putting more children in the classroom, but in doing that we're going to provide the teachers with someone who can help them," Cormier said.

No teachers will lose their jobs with the cut positions: one is retiring and the other has been filled this year by a long-term substitute after the teacher left, Cormier said.

How much the $23.1 million draft budget would impact local taxpayers is not yet clear, as the state has not released its ED 279 data, which includes information on state subsidies and the amount of funding required to be raised locally. Cormier expects preliminary figures to be released later this month.

Cormier said he feels the draft budget continues to move the district forward with initiatives that began before he was hired, and supports pieces in the recently-approved long-range plan.

"The board will decide on what they feel comfortable putting forward, but I think that the administrative team, we feel that this will allow us to continue to make progress," he said.

The school board will meet seven more times in the coming weeks to fine-tune the budget, with the next meeting scheduled for Monday, Feb. 24, at 7 p.m. at Friendship Village School.

For a schedule of all the budget meetings and more documentation on the draft budget, visit http://www.msad40.org.





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