Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By Gillian Graham email@example.com
SACO -- Voters will weigh in Wednesday on a proposed $43.2 million school budget that would reduce spending by cutting several teaching and administrative positions in Regional School Unit 23.
At the meeting at 6 p.m. at Saco Middle School, voters from Saco, Dayton and Old Orchard Beach will debate and then vote on the budget total that will go on the ballot Nov. 6.
The referendum will be the third this year for the district, which is operating without a voter-approved budget. By state law, the district is operating on the $43.5 million budget that voters rejected on July 1 because it was the most recent budget approved by the school board when school began.
In June, voters rejected a $43.6 million budget.
The proposed $43.2 million budget is about $1.8 million less than last year's budget and represents a net decrease in spending of nearly $400,000. The district received more than $1 million in additional state funding, but also faced $4.7 million in revenue losses.
The school board cut more than $1.2 million from the initial budget proposal before approving additional cuts last month.
The second round of budget cuts -- which brought the total reduction to more than $1.8 million -- includes reducing to part time a central office assistant and principal at Loranger Middle School in Old Orchard Beach.
The board also eliminated a part-time Title I teacher at the C.K. Burns School in Saco, a part-time education technician at the Fairfield School in Saco and a bus driver -- positions that are now vacant -- for a total of $117,500.
Also eliminated was $431,500 from various departments, including maintenance, transportation, supplies and bond refinancing.
Chairman Gary Curtis of Old Orchard Beach was the only school board member to vote against the latest budget total. He said he was very opposed to any further cuts but thinks it is important that voters pass a budget next month.
"I think we're coming dangerously close to affecting negatively the quality of education we're offering kids in the classroom," he said. "I voted no for any more cuts, but I certainly am now supporting the school budget. It's ludicrous to be this far into the year without an operating budget."
The lack of a final budget creates uncertainty in the schools, Curtis said, because teachers aren't sure what to order for supplies, and field trips have been canceled.
Staff cuts may mean that students will find themselves with new teachers or in new classrooms halfway through the year, he said.
That uncertainty is compounded by efforts in Saco and Dayton to withdraw from the district.
"It is imperative that the public stand up and say we have got to provide the education these kids deserve," Curtis said. "It's time to stop thinking purely in financial terms and think in terms of what is educationally sound."
Millie Tuttle, the lone school board member from Dayton, said she believes there was room for further cuts, especially after "the people spoke clearly" by rejecting budgets.
"We should have made a major $500,000 or $600,000 budget cut" after the first budget rejection, she said.
Tuttle said "voters were insulted" that the board made a much smaller cut after the first referendum, so they rejected the budget in the second referendum.
"I don't want to affect the kids in the classroom," she said. "The bottom line is, I feel the teachers should have stepped up and taken some cuts" in salaries and benefits.
Ron Michaud, a board member from Saco, voted against the first two budgets, but says the time has come to support a budget that is "as good as we can get without destroying the system."
"You can't hold the children and teachers hostage forever," he said.
Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: