POLAND — School Superintendent Dennis Duquette opened budget discussions Monday night with news that the district can expect at least a $800,000 reduction in state aid next year and, if that were not enough, the district has contractual obligations that push expenditures at least $400,000 higher in wage and benefit increases.

“We can be more efficient but the cuts will be devastating,” Duquette said.

Duquette noted that schools in Mechanic Falls, Minot and Poland began this year with a $18,758,000 budget that has been whittled down to $18,188,000.

Staff layoffs were avoided only when staff agreed to take four furlough days – saving the district $175,000 – so the budget could absorb the latest $319,500 reduction in state aid. But, Duquette warned, that option is not repeatable.

Pretty much everything is on the table.

“We’re looking at increasing class size. Cutting program offerings. Staff reductions would be 15-20 and could go higher,” he said.

Whatever the course, Duquette emphasized that the board must strive to maintain what the students need to be successful.

“We will continue to lead, make the hard decisions and do what is right for the future of our students and communities,” Duquette said.

Board chairman Dave Griffiths said the first step should be for the professional staff to immediately develop a budget that takes into account the $1.2 million (equivalent) budget cut so the committee, and the public, could get an idea of what it will mean in the classroom.

Board members called for getting town officials involved early in the review and agreed that members of the budget committees in all three towns as well as the three town managers should be at the meeting to look at the first draft of a proposed reduced budget.

Because of the long range effects of the cuts, and the expectation that deeper cuts in state aid may continue another few years, the board agreed that members of its capital improvement program subcommittee (Sue Callahan, Norm Davis and Jack Wiseman) should join the school board’s budget committee (Carl Beckett, Mary Ella Jones and Chris Woodford) in developing and refining the budget that townspeople ultimately must approve.

Griffiths said he intended to call a meeting to unveil a proposed budget some time before the school committee’s regular Feb. 1 meeting in an open forum to be held at the Poland Regional High School.

The school committee also named Annette Annance, Sue Callahan, Melissa Hodgkin and Martha Stone to a committee to study implications of a single tri-town middle school.

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