Earlier this fall, South Portland, Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth all took steps to freeze school spending because of expected cuts in state school subsidies.

The amounts of those cuts were announced by the Maine Department of Education last week. And while the curtailment figures are largely in line with what the districts expected, all three districts must now figure out what else they can cut to make up for the large holes that now exist in their school budgets.

The curtailment of $38 million in state aid to education statewide is hitting school districts everywhere in Maine. The cuts, which were announced on Friday, Nov. 20, are being made because of a huge state budget shortfall due to the bleak economy.

South Portland is losing $1.2 million in state aid, Scarborough is losing $1.1 million and Cape Elizabeth’s cut is $621,440.

In South Portland, Superintendent Suzanne Godin described the reduction as “basically what we had anticipated.”

Still, it will leave a large hole in the $39.4 million South Portland school budget for 2009-2010. That budget is already $500,000 lower than it was in 2008-2009.

South Portland’s total school subsidy that had been promised for this year was $4.8 million. The curtailment represents about 25 percent of that allotment.

Superintendent Suzanne Godin said that with a cut of that magnitude, “it was clear that freezing the budget alone would not result in the desired savings.”

So she had already formed a task force to come up with possible reductions in the budget. Godin, who is a member of the task force, said she will present the recommendations to the Board of Education at a special meeting on Dec. 7.

She said she expects the recommendations will include a variety of saving strategies, but said they do not include layoffs.

In Scarborough, which was dealt a curtailment of $1.1 million, Superintendent David Doyle said, “Unfortunately … pretty much what we thought it would be.”

Scarborough had been promised $7 million in school subsidy for this school year, and the cut represents a 16 percent reduction in that funding. The shortfall must now be made up in the $35 million Scarborough school budget for this school year.

The Scarborough Board of Education held a workshop on Nov. 5 to look at areas where possible cuts might take place.

Doyle said then that the board suggested using some savings to offset debt service payments. The board also suggested cutting back on middle school sports and perhaps eliminating some high school electives that only a few students want to take, and having the students take those courses online instead.

Doyle said that since Friday’s announcement, he is working with the school board’s Finance Committee to look at areas in the budget where savings could be found.

In Cape Elizabeth, Superintendent Alan Hawkins scheduled a special session of the School Board for 7:45 a.m. Monday, Nov. 23 to discuss how the schools would deal with the cut of $621,440.

Hawkins could not be reached for comment before the Current’s deadline that day.

The cut to Cape Elizabeth is slightly more than the $590,000 that school officials had estimated the cut would be, but officials said it was still in the range they had anticipated. The Cape Elizabeth schools have a budget this year of just under $20.2 million. The district had been slated to receive nearly $2.6 million in subsidy funds, so the cut is a 24 percent reduction in that amount.

On Friday, Gov. John Baldacci announced a total $63 million curtailment in state spending. Funds to support local schools took the biggest cut – $38 million.

Under state law, the governor has the authority to reduce spending on programs approved by the Maine Legislature with a curtailment order. The curtailment order is temporary and serves to reduce the rate of spending until a supplemental budget can be passed to address the predicted revenue shortfall. The curtailment order applies only to the current fiscal year.

“Today’s curtailment is another step to reduce State spending. In December, I will submit budget revisions to the Legislature that will make the additional cuts necessary to keep the budget balanced, as required by Maine’s Constitution and law,” Baldacci said in a statement. “I will not support increased taxes to close the budget gap.”

The weak economy continues to take its toll on state revenues, falling roughly $93 million below budget. Early estimates suggest revenues for the 2010-2011 budget could be off by $400 million or more. The revenue forecasting committee met Friday to revise its projections. A final report is due by Dec. 1.

“Earlier this year, we passed a bipartisan budget that reduced State spending by $500 million, making it the first budget in at least 35 years that was less than its predecessor,” the governor’s statement said. “It’s clear now that we will have to do even more.”

Baldacci will present a supplemental budget for fiscal years 2010-11 to the Legislature in December. The budget will contain many of the cuts implemented by the curtailment, along with additional changes in statute to further reduce State spending to meet the current revenue downturn.

“The current budget situation requires us to take action immediately. Every day we wait makes the budget cuts more severe and more difficult,” he said.

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