RSU 44 continues struggle with budget

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BETHEL — The RSU 44 board has approved dividing the reduction in state funding between the school district and the taxpayers of the five-member system. At the next meeting on April 12, they will have a better idea of which positions will be eliminated to try to meet the more than $1.5 million districtwide reduction.

Superintendent David Murphy said 3.5 of the 14 professional positions originally proposed for elimination will likely be added back, thanks to slightly more carryover funds and a bit more state aid than first announced. Also, health insurance premiums didn’t rise as much as expected.

Board member Lynn Arizzi said so far slated to be returned are one middle school and two elementary school positions and a half-time high school position.

That still leaves the elimination of three middle school and four high school teachers, along with seven elementary or other teaching positions, as well as 14 support staff positions. About 10 other professional positions would be eliminated if and when the two smaller elementary schools are closed.

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“The parents of high school students are really worried,” she said.

With the roughly 50/50 split of the loss of state revenue, Murphy said homes valued at $100,000 in Bethel would see a $63 increase in property taxes; in Andover, $75; Newry, $69; Greenwood, $60; and Woodstock, $82.

Board Chairman Sidney Pew, who has served 17 years on the board, said this is by far the toughest budget year he has ever encountered.

He said the proposal to close Woodstock and Andover elementary schools likely won’t take place this year.

“The issue is still there, the monetary issue. If I had my druthers, I wouldn’t close any school,” he said.

The proposal tentatively calls for closing the two schools, which have a total of about 120 pupils, and sending them to Crescent Park Elementary School in Bethel.

Arizzi, who sits on the RSU 44 Education Committee, said exactly which teaching positions will be eliminated aren’t yet known.

“We need to know educationally what will be cut,” she said.

The Finance Committee has set a meeting for 1 p.m., Thursday, at the central office. The committee is expected to make recommendations for specific position cuts, which will then be presented before the full board on April 12 at a meeting at Andover Elementary School.

Pew said he expects the committee to meet at least one more time before a final budget proposal is reached.

Murphy has said that he believes the FY 2010-11 budget will be somewhat less than the current $9.6 million figure.

The district serves about 900 pupils.

The board is expected to adopt a FY 2010-11 budget on May 10. Voters will then decide on June 8.

eadams@sunjournal.com

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