DIXFIELD — The local school superintendent said schools across the country must endure one more difficult year before the economy turns around.

And Western Foothills Regional School Unit 10 is no exception, Superintendent Tom Ward said.

At a special board meeting set for 6:30 p.m. Monday, the board will begin the 2011-12 budget-development process that already includes a $1.2 million gap. It’s likely that several positions will be lost when the final budget figure is adopted by the board and presented to voters in May.

Layoffs didn’t happen during the past two years because of attrition and retirements. Ward doesn’t expect that to happen again.

He said the $34.1 million district budget has remained flat for three years. With fixed costs such as negotiated salaries, utilities and oil on the rise, as well as an expected jump in health insurance premiums, Ward said the final budget likely would be higher than that of the past three years.

He believes that merging the three former SADs has been critical to maintaining flat budgets.

“The timing couldn’t have been better for consolidation,” he said.

He said among the major hits the district will take is a loss of federal stimulus money that allowed several positions to be retained. Those funds will be gone at the end of the current school year.

State aid might also be reduced.

On the positive side, because the total population of the region’s 12 towns has fallen below 20,000, the district will receive more Title I funds (for remedial reading instruction) this year, and the district also has about $200,000 remaining from jobs-bill funding. Those two pots of money may offset some of the $1.2 million gap.

At Monday’s meeting, Ward will unveil the initial budget requests from each of the district’s cost units. That figure, which was not tallied late Thursday, will be pared down during the next few weeks as each of the district’s cost centers, such as each school, special services and transportation make presentations to the board.

Tentative plans are for the board to adopt a 2011-12 budget at the end of April, with a public vote set for May 26, followed by a referendum validation vote on June 7.

At Monday’s special meeting, the board will also review a proposal that calls for all three high schools in the region to require the same number of credits for graduation. Those schools include Dirigo in Dixfield, Mountain Valley in Rumford and Buckfield High.

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