March 8, 2011

School cuts hit deeply at staff, services

About 1,200 jobs in Maine are at risk due to an expected $60 million cut in state and federal funds.

By Kelley Bouchard
Staff Writer

Portland school officials are considering a budget for the coming year that would eliminate 81 jobs to address a $4 million reduction in federal funding.

Faced with a $2.1 million revenue shortfall, Scarborough's school budget proposal would eliminate 24 positions.

Falmouth's budget proposal would eliminate or reduce as many as 20 positions in response to an $800,000 shortfall.

Staff reductions are possible in Biddeford and Westbrook, where revenue is expected to be down about $1.2 million and $3.5 million, respectively. But Westbrook Superintendent Reza Namin won't discuss the potential for layoffs before school officials unveil a budget proposal Saturday.

"It may or may not include staffing reductions," said Namin, who's working with a $33 million budget this year. "Everything's on the table because this is going to impact the entire community. This community has never faced a financial challenge this big, and we want to be very careful how we handle it."

School districts across southern Maine are preparing 2011-12 budgets that call for significant staff and program reductions.

Many are reeling from the impact of an anticipated $60 million reduction in state education aid because federal economic recovery money, which saved hundreds of school jobs in the last three years, runs out in June.

Statewide, about 1,200 school jobs could be eliminated as districts consider cutting teachers and programs, increasing class sizes and consolidating school services. Maine districts received a total of $39 million last fall from a federal education jobs bill.


Portland, the state's largest school district, saved $1.9 million of its $2.6 million jobs bill allocation to spend in 2011-12. Still, Superintendent Jim Morse presented a $92.7 million budget last week that calls for eliminating six administrators, 25 teachers, 38 education technicians and five support staff members.

Forty-one employees have accepted a retirement incentive designed to save jobs and lower operating costs, but that impact won't be known for a few weeks.

"It really depends on how much federal funding a district received and how much was used," Morse said. "For Portland, it was a very big number.

"As the school board reviews the reductions I have proposed, in every case, the correct question will be, 'What's the impact on students?' We have tried to limit that impact. This budget still moves the district forward, not backward."


Falmouth school officials are considering staff reductions that would push elementary class sizes to the 24-student maximum allowed under district policy, said Superintendent Barbara Powers. The current $24.6 million budget eliminated or reduced 12 positions.

They're also rethinking a plan to offer all-day kindergarten at a new elementary school this fall and wondering whether to further reduce the town's elementary world language program.

The school board will hold a daylong workshop Saturday and present the budget for a public hearing and vote March 21.

"We've been absorbing and absorbing and absorbing revenue reductions for three years now," Powers said. "If we go deeper, we begin to really affect the quality of education we provide."


Superintendent Jo Anne Sizemore's proposed $35.3 million budget is up 0.6 percent, $199,090, over the current budget. To avoid a greater increase, her budget would reduce operating costs by $1.3 million by eliminating more than 12 full-time teaching jobs, as well as counselor and education technician positions.

The budget also proposes increased activity fees for high school and middle school students and the introduction of fees for co-curricular activities at the intermediate level.

School Board Chairman Christopher Brownsey said Sizemore did a good job explaining the rationale for the cuts and the effort to minimize the impact on students.

"Basically, it's all based on the funding from the state and what we think we can ask taxpayers for," Brownsey said.

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