MEXICO — RSU 10 Superintendent Craig King told a group of more than 50 people Wednesday night that developing a school budget requires community involvement.

“The whole community must talk about it,” he said. “The question is how to provide for K-12 education for 12 rural communities so that we aren’t panicking every June. We have to develop a plan for the next three to five years.”

The 35 or so residents and nearly 15 school board members and school administrators held round-table discussions at the Region 9 School of Applied Technology in Mexico. They identified several ways to reduce the budget while maintaining a quality education for all 2,700 students.

The district includes the towns of Canton, Carthage, Dixfield, Peru, Buckfield, Hartford, Sumner, Byron, Mexico, Roxbury, Rumford and Hanover.

One of the top ideas was to restructure and/or close some of the 11 schools and make better use of buildings.

Carrie Arsenault said her group valued the district’s educational program as well as the extra- and co-curricular activities offered to students. “But we need more money for maintenance and must give serious consideration to school consolidation,” she said.

Board member Barbara Chow, who reported out from her round-table group, said people value living in a district where everyone knows your name and class sizes are small. “But there’s a lot of pressure to perform, for everyone, both kids and staff. We ran on a zero increase for four years,” she said. “We’d like to ask for more money.”

The school board is developing a 2014-15 budget with $1.1 million less in general purpose aid to education, $1.3 million more in negotiated contracts, and $700,000 in items the district’s principals described as top priorities.

King said he wants the board to adopt a budget that is no higher than the current year’s $36.5 million. Even with a flat budget, all towns except Byron would see an increase in their local share.

At Monday’s board meeting, the elimination of 30 positions was proposed along with a number of other cuts, totaling $1.6 million. King was also authorized to request a meeting with the Western Foothills Education Association to discuss a salary freeze.

The board will take up the preliminary budget at 6:30 p.m. April 14 at Hartford-Sumner Elementary School in Sumner.

A round-table discussion was held at that school Tuesday night.

King said all comments will be compiled and placed on the district’s website. The school board is scheduled to discuss that data at its April 14 meeting.

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