Deep cuts, layoffs proposed in Mt. Blue school budget

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FARMINGTON — A budget that recommends cutting 12 teaching positions, reducing programs and operation costs, and a district-wide wage freeze are at the core of the proposed spending plan for the Mt. Blue Regional School District for 2010-11.

Superintendent Michael Cormier presented the dismal numbers Tuesday to the school board and to a room packed with concerned teachers, parents, community members and town officials.

The proposed $22 million operating budget is $1.5 million less than was raised in 2009-10 and reflects a loss of $1.6 million in state funds.

“This is going to impact the quality of education,” Cormier said. “We realized these are tough times and we are trying to be responsible to the community.”

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The proposed budget will be reviewed by board members in the coming weeks, will be presented to the community during public hearings, and the final draft will be voted on by taxpayers in June.

The nine towns in the district will see about a 2 percent increase in their school assessments that will be passed on to property taxpayers based on property valuations. That equates to about $184,240 to cover the cost of fuel, electricity and heating oil, Cormier said.

According to district records, annual school assessments for the towns have increased by about 2 to 4 percent in recent years.

“There is no way that the local taxpayers could pick up the reduction in state revenues,” Cormier wrote in a memo to the board. “Therefore, the only other option was to reduce programs and staffing.”

The cost of staffing and benefits make up about 78 percent of the budget, he wrote.

“The enormity of this reduction far exceeds anything we have ever done,” Cormier said Tuesday. “We are trying to keep the skeleton of programs so we have the capability to return them in the future” when the economy improves.

The proposed staff reductions include teaching positions at all schools; cuts in textbooks, classroom supplies and added athletic fees.

Other proposed reductions include a one-year delay for the string program, which would begin in fourth grade rather than third; elimination of the elementary school language program; cuts in library staff and club adviser stipends; and all study hall monitors.

Fees paid by the district to run freshmen basketball and football programs would be eliminated, and the middle school cross-county program would not be funded, under the proposal.

Cormier said negotiations for a wage freeze are going on with the employee unions and if they approve them, it would save the district $200,000. District administrators have already agreed to a wage freeze for next year.

There is also an option for furlough days that the unions will also be considering, he said.

Many of the proposed cuts are so deep, such as purchases of educational materials, that they are not sustainable for more than a few years, he said. He also warned that the district can expect to face additional budget challenges next year.

That is when the federal stimulus funds known as the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, will be gone. This year’s proposed budget includes $573,500 in stimulus funds that will not be available next year.

In Farmington, the total increase could be $15,330, which would have no impact on the property tax bill, according to Town Manager Richard Davis.

The school district includes Chesterville, Farmington, Industry, New Sharon, New Vineyard, Temple, Vienna, Weld and Wilton.

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