POLAND – Consolidating Mechanic Falls, Minot and Poland schools could cost as many as 24 people their jobs.

“Hard choices will have to be made. This is gut-wrenching,” Superintendent Dennis Duquette told the newly sworn 15-member Regional School Unit 16 board at its inaugural meeting Wednesday night.

While the job cuts are a long way from final, they weren’t pulled out of thin air. In the four months since the November vote by the three towns in favor of consolidation, Duquette and Rick Kusturin, school business manager, have met with administrators of the district’s five schools to begin developing a budget to take effect July 1.

Based on funding estimates from Augusta and holding to promises made to towns before the consolidation vote not to increase taxes, Kusturin gave administrators a projected revenue budget of $18,212,596.

It didn’t take administrators long to figure out that, based on existing commitments, they had projected a budget of more than $19 million. Eliminating the 24 positions would take the budget down to $18,374,724.

“We must find new and better ways to educate our students. We’ll have less money but it doesn’t mean we have to offer less. With a positive attitude we can find our way around this; we can be successful,” Duquette said.

The proposed job cuts are spread across the five schools and the central office.

Duquette pointed to a range of possibilities including elimination of five teaching positions at Poland Regional High School, which would be accomplished by altering the policy on teaching loads, and restructuring bus routes across the three towns as a way to reduce the number of bus drivers by three.

Struck by the broad swath of potential job losses, Dave Griffiths, the board’s new chairman, asked how much help might be coming from federal economic stimulus funds.

Duquette estimated as much as $216,000, perhaps enough for two or three positions for a couple of years, and maybe a little help in meeting special education obligations.

Besides electing Griffiths as chairman, the board elected Yvette Murray as vice chairwoman and appointed Carl Beckett, Mary Ella Jones and Chris Woodford to serve on a special committee to develop a budget. Griffiths and Murray are expected to join the trio.

The Budget Committee is to present a budget for full board action by May 13, with a public hearing to follow May 27 and a referendum vote on June 9.

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