Gov. Paul LePage’s executive order on Dec. 27 to reduce state spending will have an impact on local schools.

And while the numbers aren’t huge, any curtailment of state aid is painful, said Westbrook School Superintendent Marc Gousse.

“We’re like most places, stretched to the limit already. When you take something that’s bare bones and you add that challenge (of a curtailment), you’re cutting into the bone.”

According to information released by the state Department of Education, the $12.6 million in state aid to the Westbrook School Department will be reduced by slightly less than $205,000, a cut of 0.7 percent. The cut is a small percentage of the $30.9 million 2012-2013 school budget passed by voters in June.

In Gorham, the school department will be absorbing a $157,000 cut, 0.5 percent of the state aid of $17.5 million that was included in the $32.2 million school budget for 2012-2013.

School Administrative District 6, which includes Bonny Eagle High School, will see its $20.1 million state subsidy reduced by $287,000, a 0.7 percent cut. The total SAD 6 school budget for 2012-2013 is $40.5 million.

LePage ordered $35.5 million in spending cuts in an effort to balance the state’s fiscal 2013 budget. The cuts enacted by LePage include a total of $12.58 million in reductions to general purpose aid to state schools. The cuts were made necessary by a Maine law that requires the state produce a balanced budget by the end of each fiscal year, which is June 30.

“With the fiscal year at its midpoint, if we were not to address this now it would become increasingly challenging to achieve the reductions required to balance the budget,” said Maine Department of Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen. “The curtailment order will help schools make plans.”

While the Westbrook School Department has been anticipating a cut for some time, that doesn’t make it any easier to absorb, said Gousse.

“We’re going to have to make $205,000 in cuts that we didn’t anticipate doing,” School Committee Chairman Ed Symbol added. “I don’t know where we can come up with that money.”

On Friday last week, Gousse said he was still working on a proposal to absorb the state curtailment. He planned to meet with the School Committee’s Finance Committee on Jan. 2, after the American Journal’s deadline, to discuss possible budget cuts.

“The big question is what is going to have the least impact on our kids and our day-to-day operations,” Gousse said, adding that one area of the school budget that he anticipates proposing cuts in will be professional development opportunities that take place outside Westbrook.

“That involves travel, that involves conferences,” he said.

While he doesn’t anticipate cutting any positions, Gousse said he would look for ways to save by holding off on filling some positions.

“If there are any positions that are open, or become open, we would reserve judgment in terms of posting them unless they were deemed to be critical assets,” he said.

Symbol said he sees things like maintenance to the school department’s buildings being deemed expendable.

“Stuff that we would have spent money on like maintenance, now we’re going to have to put it off another year,” he said.

Gorham Superintendent Ted Sharp said he had already taken steps to reduce spending to help absorb the cut in state aid.

“I had placed a freeze on discretionary spending in early November in anticipation of the curtailment and that will assist us in meeting this number,” he said.

School Administrative District 6 Superintendent Frank Sherburne was expecting the mid-year curtailment and had been preparing for it during the fall with district business manager Bill Brockman. The two had identified about $450,000 worth of expenditures that could have been cut, so the $287,000 cut fits within that contingency plan.

“In August, we were hearing some rumors from Augusta that they were probably going to be doing a curtailment this year because revenue projections (were lower than expected),” Sherburne said, “so Bill and I sat down and went line by line and created a budget reserve. And where we thought we might be able to shave a little money we did. So we were able to set some money aside in that way if this were to happen.

“We set aside some funds and the plan was that if no curtailment plan had been discussed, we would start releasing that money again,” Sherburne said. “So we just postponed some purchases. We asked the building principals to scale back a little bit as well. But with the curtailment, we’re not going to be releasing those funds because we’re going to need those to make up for the loss in the state aid.”

Sherburne said the whole process of curtailments, which disrupt a school system midyear, could be avoided if state officials were more conservative in projecting tax revenue. He said next year, the state is already figuring that tax revenue will be up, a likelihood that he doubts will take place and which actually creates more confusion and frustration, he said.

“So not only are we going to be back where we were this year, but they’re projecting we’re actually going to see a $250,000 increase (in state subsidy) next year. I’m not planning for that. I don’t know why the state feels we’re going to have money next year that they’re taking away from us this year,” Sherburne said. “I don’t know who does their forecasting, but I don’t have a great deal of confidence in it. It seems like every year in August, Augusta says, ‘Oh, brace yourselves, there’s probably going to be a curtailment.’ There’s got to be a better way of forecasting.”

Maine Education Association President Lois Kilby-Chelsey spoke out against LePage’s cuts last week.

“Gov. LePage issued a curtailment order today that shortchanges Maine schools, again,” she said. “The governor ordered that a third of the money needed to balance the budget should come from public schools. This is shortsighted and forces communities to balance the budget on the backs of our students. The question remains, how are our students supposed to succeed when the governor continues to take from our public schools? The governor already failed to fully fund schools at 55 percent as mandated by law, now he is asking to take more away from our public schools and students. This is not the way Maine should be.”

Staff writers Robert Lowell and John Balentine contributed to this report.


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