SOUTH PORTLAND – The Board of Education learned Monday that the consolidation of the city’s two middle schools could result in savings of $889,000 per year for the district — and that many residents are upset about the proposal.

The board is considering the plan as part of their budget deliberations. The consolidation plan was one of several ideas Superintendent Suzanne Godin presented to the board as a way to achieve a flat tax rate for the school portion of South Portland’s budget for the coming fiscal year.

Under the plan, both Mahoney Middle School and Memorial Middle School would continue to operate next school year. Mahoney would be funded through federal stimulus money that will no longer be available after 2011. During that year, school officials would have to study transportation changes, the reconfiguration of administrative office space, scheduling and moving costs.

In the 2011-2012 school year, Mahoney would be closed and all students would attend Memorial. Administration offices would be converted to classroom space, and portable classrooms would be added to accommodate the extra students. Godin said it would likely be four or five years before the school could start any construction projects at Memorial to build permanent classrooms and make other improvements.

The consolidation is expected to lead to the elimination of 17.5 positions and savings in utilities, insurance and maintenance. After factoring in the estimated annual rental costs for six double-wide trailers for portable classrooms, the savings is expected to be $889,009.

“We know that the efficiencies of having one building is where the money can be saved,” Godin said.

About 150 people attended the board’s budget workshop and public hearing at Skillin Elementary School. Many of the speakers said they felt that a significant proposal was being pushed through a tight timetable. The details of the consolidation plan were released for the first time Monday. The board is scheduled to vote on the budget next Monday.

“I understand the need for consolidation of the middle school. I think this is a really poor approach,” said Tap Fitzgerald. “Take your time. Do it right. That’s why you’re here.”

Godin said that consolidation of the middle schools has been part of the district’s plan for several years, through the work of the secondary facilities committee.

Board member Ralph Baxter Jr. noted that any decision made about consolidation in the coming weeks does not bind the district to close Mahoney in the 2011-2012 school year.

“We’re proposing talking about it,” he said.

Godin last week presented a $39.4 million budget that would cut 31 jobs and result in a property tax rate of $10.26 per $1,000 of assessed valuation — an increase of 74 cents. Godin also presented a number of additional cost-saving proposals, including the consolidation plan. The City Council has directed school officials to come up with a budget aimed at keeping the tax rate flat next year.

Some residents spoke of the need to tell the City Council that a flat budget is unacceptable.

“Go back to them and say, ‘We’re not doing a zero budget,’ ” said Glenn Ekholm. “Push back. Do what’s right for the students of South Portland.”

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: [email protected]