RSU 58 directors look at potential budget shortfalls

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KINGFIELD—Regional School Unit 58 directors got their first look at potential budget shortfalls that will impact staffing, programs and services for the coming fiscal year.

On Thursday night, Superintendent Susan Pratt told the board they must face tough decisions to fund the 2018-19 school year.

In a presentation to the board and an audience of teachers, municipal administrators and teachers, she reviewed both the expected revenue resources and expenses and possible ways to balance those two in the $9.1 million proposal.

The board’s job over the next two months will be to review Pratt’s recommendations for cuts to the district’s 12 cost centers, which represents more than $235,652 in reductions over last year’s budget.

“We cut something from just about all of them,” she said.

No department was spared, but the board will have to decide how to juggle revenues to cover costs with less money. 

“We have a declining enrollment, and we need to respond to that,” she said.

When students graduate from Mt. Abram High School, the incoming freshmen population does not make up for that loss. This last year, the district population has declined by 30 students, she said. New students are not enrolling in elementary schools.

“Young families aren’t moving to the rural part of the state,” she said.

The state’s subsidy funding is based on formulas, including the proportion of teachers to students. Rural districts are at a distinct disadvantage, Pratt noted. They can’t shift students populations among schools to meet the state-mandated 17:1 student-teacher ratio, as more urban districts are able to do. 

Last July, Pratt said, the Maine Department of Education’s Commissioner predicted that schools would get more money. That money was not forthcoming, so RSU 58 directors will have to find ways to deal with the shortfall. Part of the problem is declining enrollment.

The Maine Department of Education’s reductions were based on the district’s declining enrollment and the changes in the state’s funding formula. Pratt told municipal officials from the towns of Avon, Kingfield, Phillips and Strong that the required local share of $88,592 must come from taxpayers in their towns. Increases in municipal shares are based on property valuations in each town.

Some positions, including teachers and education technicians, could be eliminated or reduced from full-time to part-time. Equipment cuts include funding for school cafeteria tables, carpeting, flooring and computers. The budget cuts also include Alpine skiing for both the high school and middle schools students. 

Dawn Maceda, a Phillips Elementary School teacher, addressed the board and asked them to consider the challenges many of their students face. Since schools do not have funding for counselors to address young students’ many needs, the teachers do that job, she said. Children may come to school without breakfast or may come from broken or dysfunctional homes, and teachers must be willing to face that. Taking money from teachers and students isn’t the answer, she said.

“It’s not in the best interests to take more away from (students),” she said.

Kingfield Elementary School teacher Margaret Nerney Adams suggested that reducing the number of teachers would not meet the board’s goal of district sustainability. Cuts will make the district less appealing to new families, she said.

“How can we say this (district) is a good place to bring your child?” she asked Pratt and the board.

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