Maine’s schools are on the cusp of bleak budget times, with short-term losses foreshadowing deeper cuts ahead, as revenues dwindle. Their leaders and faculty, however, are setting the right example to deal with these difficulties.

Over at USM-LAC, professors and administrators have volunteered to cut their salaries if it means staving the layoffs of colleagues. Roxie Black, the faculty chairwoman, has said, “We need to support one another at the college.”

The three-campus University of Southern Maine system, as a whole, faces a $2.7 million budget cut in early 2009, with more expected to come later.

Though there’s some question about whether union rules would prevent these salary cuts from occurring, doing so would be shortsighted. To succeed, the university needs all of its faculties working together toward common goals.

In Lewiston, Superintendent Leon Levesque unveiled plans Monday to bring himself and other administrators back into classrooms as substitutes to avoid hiring additional subs. This may save $45,000 this year. “We need to pull together as a team and understand that the contingency account is gone,” Levesque told the school committee.

The district is facing a short-term cut of $544,000, with, again, more expected later.

These ideas are crisis planning at its finest. The faculty, administrators and staff of USM-LAC and Lewiston school department should be applauded for their leadership. This should pay further dividends as projections darken.

We’ve watched budget battles before. Often, the debate focuses on slaughtering sacred cows and marginal plans, instead of real sacrifices. It is rare to see those affected by cuts offer rational, altruistic alternatives, or the cutters volunteering their time and money to mitigate impacts.

This is an otherwise refreshing approach to school budgeting, which is only diminished by symbolizing the hard decisions ahead. The lengths educators are now considering for their budgets is an indicator of the serious problems the state’s revenue picture will soon cause for them.

These lengths, though, are a model for others. Dealing with future budget deficits will require compromise, sacrifice and innovation, to strike the delicate balance between goverment and schools remain good, and not become cheap.

Our local educators are setting a fine tone for doing just that.

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