The superintendent of Westbrook schools wants to reduce the department’s staff by 21 positions to account for losses of state and federal aid and built-in cost increases.

In his proposed 2012-2013 budget, given to the Board of Education earlier this month, Superintendent Marc Gousse identified 34 full- and part-time positions, including about 20 teaching jobs, that could be cut. It wasn’t clear how many of the cuts would affect current employees.

Gousse also proposed adding 13 positions, including a second assistant principal at the high school and another at the middle school.

The 21 net staff reductions, combined with the proposal to close Prides Corner Elementary School, aim to address a budget shortfall largely created by a $607,000 reduction in state aid, the loss of $588,000 in federal stimulus funds, more than $1 million in contractual salary increases, and higher energy costs.

The School Committee’s Finance Committee is scheduled in March to begin its review of Gousse’s recommended $31.6 million budget, which is up $745,000 from the current year’s budget.

Gousse said Tuesday that he hadn’t calculated how the increase would affect the city’s tax rate, but it would be “substantial.” He expects the budget total will be adjusted during the review process.

“It’s not a done deal,” he said.

School Committee Chairman Ed Symbol also said he thinks “a lot will change” before the budget goes to a referendum in June.

“I’m cognizant that the economy we’re in isn’t going to support a huge tax increase,” he said.

The budget approved last year raised the school portion of the tax rate by 2.6 percent, adding $82 to the tax bill on an average house worth about $190,000. About 40 positions were eliminated, though school officials had considered cutting as many as 80.

“I think we’re in a much better position than we were a year ago,” said school board member Alex Stone, chairman of the Finance Committee.

Gousse said there are still opportunities to adjust the district to account for declining enrollment. Gousse, a former principal, said Westbrook High School had more than 900 students when he started working there in 2001. There are now less than 700.

Total enrollment in the district, now 2,440 students, is expected to drop another 200 by 2016, he said.

Among the positions proposed for elimination are teacher jobs in English, math, science and social studies at the high school. At the elementary level, two guidance counselor and three alternative-learning teaching positions are targeted.

Joan Harmon, president of the Westbrook Education Association, couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

Eliminating a net 21 positions, including some at Prides Corner, would save $713,000, Gousse said. Closing Prides Corner school, which the School Committee supported earlier this month, would save the district a total of about $520,000, he said.

The School Committee will take a final vote in March on whether to close the Prides Corner school, which would set in motion a plan to reconfigure grades.

If Prides Corner closes, the district will have three elementary schools for kindergarten through fourth grade, instead of two schools for kindergarten through second grade and two for third through fifth grades. Under the plan, fifth-graders would attend Westbrook Middle School.

Gousse proposed adding a middle school assistant principal, who would also act as an athletic director, to accommodate the extra grade of students. The proposed assistant principal at the high school is a position that was eliminated two years ago in an administrative restructuring, which Gousse said “hasn’t worked well.”

Other additional positions proposed are a health teacher and a secretary at the middle school, a part-time teacher for non-native English speakers, and literacy and math coaches.

 

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: [email protected]