Budget options for RSU 16 limited

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POLAND — None of the three plans that RSU 16 Superintendent Dennis Duquette presented to the packed Poland Regional High School Auditorium Monday night made anyone happy.

Faced with the task of presenting a budget to Mechanic Falls, Minot and Poland voters in May that cuts $2.1 million from the present $18.7 million budget, Duquette put some numbers to the three plans developed by the School Committee’s Middle School Exploration Subcommittee.

The School Committee had concluded that changes in how the new district educates its middle school students is key to making the necessary expenditure reductions.

Options developed by the subcommittee include maintaining the current status whereby seventh- and eighth-graders are educated separately in the three towns. The second option would be to move the Minot students to the Elm Street School in Mechanic Falls, while Poland students would continue to attend Whittier Middle School. The third model would be to move middle school students from both Mechanic Falls and Minot to Poland’s Whittier School.

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Pressed on his opinion of the plan of maintaining the status quo, Duquette termed it a “slash-and-burn” solution.

According to figures that Duquette provided, he could cut $1.2 million from the budget if he laid off about 20 staff, gutted foreign language, music, art, health, technical education and several other programs.

The second plan, whereby Minot students would attend school at Elm Street, would achieve a savings of just under a $1 million.

The third plan, whereby the students in all three towns would attend the same school, would achieve a savings of about $1.2 million.

Duquette noted that this savings also had its costs in reduced programs and personnel but not quite as severe as with trying to maintain the status quo.

Longtime Poland Budget Committee member Norm Beauparlant suggested that at a future meeting Duquette show the tax implications as well as the educational implications of his proposed budget alternatives.

Beauparlant suggested that perhaps if people understood the impact to education in the three communities that residents might be willing to absorb some increases to property taxes.

Beauparlant noted that  the three towns had worked very hard to produce a successful educational system.

“We can’t dismember the system so badly that it would take 20 years to get back to where we are now,” Beauparlant said.

Many parents and teachers spoke of their reluctance to lose music and art. Others feared the loss of athletics and physical education.

Poland resident George Sanborn noted that there had been no mention of opening teacher contracts to see if they might accept a pay freeze.

Asked for how much of the $2.1 million could be attributed to raises coming to teachers, School Committee member Dave Griffiths reported it was about $350,000.

Sanborn said that Poland town employees had been asked to accept a pay freeze, and they accepted it.

“This year is a ‘lucky you have a job’ year,” Sanborn said.

Griffiths noted that this was the first of three RSU 16 School Committee meetings to be held before the committee begins to make firm decisions on the budget. The first will be March 15; the second March 29. Both will be at 6:30 p.m.

In addition, he said that there will be three other meetings, one in each of the three towns, where the options for the middle school students will be discussed.

The first of these meetings will be held in the coming week. For Poland residents the meeting will be held Tuesday night at the cafeteria in the Poland Regional High School, Mechanic Falls residents will meet Thursday, March 4, at the Elm Street School, and Minot residents will gather next Monday, March 8, at the Minot Consolidated School. All of these meetings will be at 7 p.m.

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