DIXFIELD – Determining the proposed 2008-09 SAD 21 budget of $11.5 million was one of the toughest challenges yet for Superintendent Thomas Ward and school board directors.

Not only did they have to pare $900,000 in requests due to an unanticipated state-aid shortfall of several hundred thousand dollars, they also had to eliminate 12 elementary and middle school positions, Ward said early Tuesday afternoon in his Dixfield office.

“We’ve always had increases from the state of $400,000 to $600,000, but this year, it was only $40,000, because the state delayed its ramp of funding to get to 55 percent by one year, and that threw everyone off,” he said.

“We had to cut 12 positions and we also made a number of other cuts. The cuts totaled almost $1 million in requests from staff.”

Of the 12 positions, only three people – a library technician, education technician and secretary – actually lost jobs. Retirements and people leaving the district accounted for the rest.

Ward said it was the second year in a row that SAD 21 significantly cut its staff.

The district will convene an informational meeting on the budget at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 5. Then, afterward, conduct voting during an annual budget meeting at Dirigo High School’s Student Community Center.

“We’re trying to involve more people in the budget process,” Ward said.

Thursday’s meeting will be followed Tuesday, June 10, with a yes or no referendum on the results of Thursday’s budget meeting.

Normally, SAD 21 would convene an informational meeting a week before the annual budget meeting vote.

“If people want to actually vote on (the budget) and get information, then they need to come to the annual budget meeting. The referendum is a formality to get a second approval from people who couldn’t make it to the budget meeting,” Ward said.

The proposed budget’s overall impact to Canton, Carthage, Dixfield and Peru is 2 percent higher than last year. However, Ward added, it will seem like much more because directors had to include in the budget the first year of payment for the district’s new prekindergarten through fifth-grade elementary school.

“We have to show it even though the state is paying for it. So, the reality is, the overall increase is more than 2 percent,” Ward said.

The 2007-08 budget, which doesn’t include adult education, was $10,593,612. The proposed new budget is $11,502,556

Other items cut from the budget included new technology hardware and other equipment replacements.

Ward said they did leave in a 3-percent across-the-board cost of living increase that was negotiated with the school unions “that barely covers the cost of living increase.”

Directors also went with heating oil and gasoline/diesel at $3 a gallon, even though the price of all three has risen significantly and could actually end up costing much more.

“We can’t get anyone to lock in a price, so everyone is waiting for prices to drop, so we’re very concerned. When we put the budget together, that $3 a gallon seemed reasonable. We do this with SAD 44 and SAD 43 and all the towns, so we’re all in the same boat. We can’t even come close to getting a lock in on gas and diesel, so already, right off, we’re tight with this budget, because we’re at the whims of fuel costs,” Ward said.

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