GRAY – Roughly 50 parents, students and teachers stood in the rain toting picket signs to protest the possible closure of Russell School, then marched into Stimson Hall to attend the SAD 15 board meeting.

The audience of about 100 addressed the 11 directors who are in the midst of deliberations to trim the proposed $16.2 million budget for 2003-04. The amount proposed by Superintendent Michael Wood represents no increase from this year,

The budget plan consolidates three elementary schools into two, and eliminates or affects 33.5 staff positions. It also reduces technology funding, closes Pennell School and eliminates the director of finance position. In additional, an activity fee of $100 was recommended for all high school students.

A Budget Advisory Committee of Gray and New Gloucester residents offered a compromise to the reorganization plan in light of protests from the public and staff.

The board this week began studying the two compromise plans.

Under one plan, Russell School in Gray and Memorial School in New Gloucester would each serve 181 students in grades K-2. About 450 students in grades three to five would attend Dunn School in New Gloucester.

The other plan would keep 269 students in grades K-3 at Russell and Dunn schools and 280 students in grades four and five at Memorial School. Smaller class sizes are preserved in the compromise plans.

The plans would cost $16.5 million and $16.6 million, respectively.

The board will review both proposals and vote on a preferred plan at its April 16 meeting. Directors will study other cost-saving measures before adopting a final plan for the district.

Voters need to come to the polls to support a budget, said New Gloucester board member Bill Corrigan.

SAD 15 historically has had difficulty passing school budgets.

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