AUBURN — A tough economy that’s slowed state tax revenue will mean
significant cuts to Maine schools in the next few years, but Auburn schools are prepared for the
first round, Superintendent Tom Morrill told the School Committee
on Wednesday night.

“We don’t need to talk about layoffs. We don’t need to talk about
extraordinary measures,” Morrill said. And the idea of raising property
taxes never came up.

Layoffs in next year’s budget could be avoided or softened by not
replacing two administrators who are leaving, Morrill said. Most of the
numbers he offered Wednesday night are projections and subject to
change, he cautioned.

Morrill explained that the state is cutting $38 million to schools
statewide for the current school year, which ends June 30. That means
$677,744 less from Auburn’s $34 million budget.

“How do you make up for that $677,000 shortfall? This was not
suddenly sprung on us,” Morrill said, adding that schools knew last
August the cut was coming.

Auburn prepared by reducing supply spending, cutting staff travel
and student field trips. “We haven’t purchased things we normally
purchase,” like photocopiers. As some educators left or retired, some
jobs went unfilled.

“You take all those factors and we’ve been able to successfully meet the $677,744 shortfall,” he said.

But, the above are one-time savings, not structural or
permanent. That means the $677,744 less will be felt in future budgets.
Structural cuts are needed for the year that begins July 1 when the
state is expected to cut another $36 million.

That could mean a cut to Auburn between $220,000 to $442,073, on top
of the $677,744 less in 2010-11, Morrill said. Those numbers are
projections that are subject to change. The exact amounts won’t be known
until state legislators vote on a state budget and final numbers given
to schools in the upcoming months.

Morrill floated a few ways how permanent cuts could be made next year, including:

• Not replacing some positions when people leave or retire. Elaine
Dow, who heads curriculum development, is retiring. Not replacing her
and having her work done by Morrill and Assistant Superintendent Katy
Grondin could save $81,220.

  • Not replacing Auburn Middle School Principal Cathy Cutler, who,
after this year, plans to move with her husband. That could save another
$82,499, Morrill said. The administrators are valuable and not
replacing them will mean some consequences, he said.

• Consolidating office space on the fourth floor of Auburn Hall,
saving some $30,000. The school department administration now takes up
38 percent of
Auburn Hall.

• Shifting the $39,648 cost of custodians cleaning school kitchens to the self-sufficient lunch program.

Those cuts and others add up to $418,367. Others that some districts are mulling could be
considered, including a four-day school week, cutting sports, closing
small schools, not replacing textbooks and cutting staff development.

  Any
budget cuts would have to be approved by the School Committee after
Morrill gives his budget proposal later this winter.
The budget picture is expected to worsen in 2011-12, when statewide education cuts could be $60
million, on top of the other cuts. That cut would be larger because
federal stimulus money, which is now helping shore up municipal budgets,
would be gone, he said.

  Morrill began his presentation by
comparing what Auburn spends per pupil versus
other school departments for 2007-08.

Auburn’s per-pupil operating cost two years ago was $8,263, the
lowest of eight other districts that included Lewiston at $8,305, Brunswick at $9,044, Bangor at $9,053, and Portland at $10,383.

The state average per pupil operating cost for 2007-08 was $9,370.

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