DIXFIELD – Superintendent Tom Ward and school directors are going to try not to increase spending in the next fiscal year, despite an increase in state valuations in the 12 towns of the Western Foothills School District.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, members looked at an initial budget request of $37.6 million for 2009-10, which is about $3.4 million more than the combined budgets of member districts, SAD 21, SAD 43 and SAD 39.

The final figure will be lower than the initial requests, but how much lower won’t be known until the board meets again on April 28.

Ward proposed cuts of more than $2 million that included the elimination of new special education teachers and special education technicians and other staff to meet expected needs, transportation and maintenance cuts, and a variety of other costs.

At the next meeting, administrators are expected to show the impacts of each proposed cut. Ward said teacher/pupil and educational technician/pupil ratios will be studied, with an eye toward the possibility of increasing those ratios. Also, he said research into whether some current staff members can move into some of the expected needs for special education will be studied.

The only way the planned prekindergarten program will be launched in the towns of SAD 21 and SAD 43 will be through federal stimulus money. SAD 39 already has such a program.

Ward said the budget process is trying to reduce costs in ways other than staff cuts.

“We’re trying to keep people employed,” he said.

Board members asked for taxpayer impacts using a variety of scenarios ranging from a 2 percent decrease to a 1.5 percent increase in the base figure of $34.2 million.

Carryover money from each district can also be used to offset school tax increases because the state law that created the Regional School Unit consolidation process prohibits the new school unit from retaining such funds.

Also, the new school unit is expected to receive two substantial special education grants.

Ward said the more than $112 million increase in state valuation for the 12 towns also reduces the amount of state aid the new district will receive. Those valuation increases range from a high of $32 million in Rumford, to a low of $2.5 million in Byron. Buckfield, Hartford, Mexico and Peru all gained valuations of more than $10 million.

Western Foothills School District is saving about a $500,000 from consolidating central offices. Greater savings are expected in the future.

For this first year, building the budget is difficult, particularly in light of the economic climate.

“We’re trying to do the best we can for the kids and be responsible to the community,” Ward said.

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