Residents of Regional School Unit 23 will have the chance Tuesday to alter a proposed $45.5 million education budget that calls for the elimination of several positions. The budget is up $2.3 million over the current year, largely because of increases district officials say they have no control over, including contracted salary raises and more than a half-million dollars in added teacher retirement costs.

During the regional budget meeting, residents of Saco, Dayton and Old Orchard Beach can increase or decrease 11 cost centers of the budget. The budget total set at the meeting will be voted on during a districtwide budget validation referendum on June 11. The regional budget meeting begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Old Orchard Beach High School.

“The vast majority of the increase is made up of things we have no control over,” said Superintendent Patrick Phillips. “I think this is a very, very lean and tight budget. We’re doing very little to improve our educational services.”

The proposed budget is “bare-bones” and will require position cuts, said Gary Curtis, chairman of the school board. Both Dayton Consolidated, and Loranger Middle School in Old Orchard Beach will lose one teacher position because of decreased enrollment. Other cuts include reducing hours for a transportation assistant, a custodian and a Saco Middle School secretary.

A world languages teacher, part-time librarian and part-time library educational tech will be added at Saco Middle. The three Saco elementary schools will share an additional guidance counselor.

Curtis, who believes the budget is underfunded, said the district “owes our youngsters more than a bare-bones education.”

“Last year we had cut things right to the bone. There was absolutely no fat left,” he said. “We did that with the idea that we would catch up this year. The problem is if you play catch-up, you never really do.”

Phillips said there were several huge challenges in developing the budget, including the anticipated shift of half of teacher retirement costs from the state to the district. That means the district must plan to pick up nearly a half-million dollars in extra retirement costs, he said. The budget also had to include a 6 percent increase in health insurance costs and union-contracted salary increases.

Phillips said he recognizes that some voters may want a budget with a zero percent increase, but the district cannot accomplish that without cutting about 30 positions and drastically increasing class sizes. Unlike municipal governments, school officials cannot create and draw from reserve accounts to minimize the impact of budget increases on taxpayers, he said.

During the past year, the district has been doing “a pretty good job” raising money from private and federal sources, taking in a total of $105,000 to supplement the budget. That money included $17,500 for a new career academy at Old Orchard Beach High School, a $5,000 grant for school security upgrades and $83,000 to support the implementation of a discipline-related program. Phillips said district officials will continue to seek out additional revenue sources.

On June 11, voters also will decide if they want to continue holding annual budget validation referendums for the next three years.

Budget information, including presentations for district officials, is available on the RSU 23 website. Phillips will open Tuesday’s meeting with an overview of the proposed budget.

 

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at ggraham@mainetoday.com

Twitter: grahamgillian