Public hearing tonight in Farmington on $22.1M school budget

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7 p.m., Tuesday, May 4,  public hearing on the $22.1 million budget for Mt. Blue Regional School District at Mt. Blue Middle School on Middle Street in Farmington.

7 p.m., May 11, district-wide vote at Mt. Blue High School.

May 18, referendum voting in each district town to validate the budget.

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

FARMINGTON — A public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 4, to explain Mt. Blue Regional School District’s 2010-11 budget and the reason behind the across-the-board cuts to positions, supplies and programs.

The $22.1 million budget approved by the school board on April 27 reflects a decrease of $1.5 million over last year and a decrease in state aid of about $1.6 million — an 11 percent cut compared to last year, according to officials.

“This has been a very difficult process. It is a budget that has many reductions and has potential implications for the future,” Superintendent Michael Cormier said on Monday.

Cormier said there was no way that the local taxpayers could pick up the reduction in state revenues and the only other option was to reduce programs and staffing.

The hearing will be held at the start of the regular school board meeting. A district-wide budget vote will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 11, at Mt. Blue High School with a referendum vote to be held in each district town to certify the vote on May 18.

Among the reductions will be 11 teaching positions, several held by retiring employees who will not be replaced. There also will be cuts in spending for textbooks, classrooms, library and athletic supplies; transportation and maintenance; support personnel; sports programs; and stipends for some co-curricular programs.

Under the original proposal, the district’s popular string program that teaches every third-grade student to play the violin would have been delayed to fourth grade.

The school board reversed its decision to eliminate a half-time strings teacher following strong community opposition.

Franklin Savings Bank also stepped forward with a “Save the Music” $10,000 matching-grant fundraising campaign to restore some of the music program’s $27,000 of cuts in operating costs. These include spending on supplies, technology, fees and dues to attend music festivals.

The budget also contains a reduced shuttle bus schedule; cuts the elementary school language program and all study hall monitors.

A wage freeze that would save the district $203,000 is being negotiated with the district’s three employee unions but administrators have already agreed to freeze their salaries for the coming year, Cormier said.

The unions will also be asked to consider taking unpaid furlough days, he said.

Jobs being reduced or eliminated include three elementary classroom positions; Chinese language, general music, physical education, science, math, elementary foreign language and drafting positions; two librarians; several district technology positions; a secretary; and positions in facilities management and transportation.

Cormier, in his budget report, said two factors significantly influenced the reduction in state funding. One was that property valuations in all nine towns increased by 9 percent while the state average was only 3 percent. The other was that enrollment declined by 2 percent since 2008.

“You put those two figures together and it spells disaster,” he wrote.

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