Tuesday, May 21, 2013
GARDINER — The school board of Regional School Unit 11 will meet Thursday to discuss ways to avoid a 13 percent increase in the district's assessment on taxpayers.
Budget requests from RSU 11 administrators add up to $22.1 million, a 3.4 percent increase from this year's budget of $21.4 million.
Because of a projected decrease in state funding, the requested budget would require the district to raise $9.1 million from taxpayers in Gardiner, Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner. That's 13.1 percent higher than the $8.1 million local assessment this year.
Superintendent Pat Hopkins said she expects the school board to make cuts to avoid an increase that large.
"I don't see that happening," she said of the increase. "The board is very cognizant of what's happening with the economy, and they're trying to find a balance between fiscal responsibility and still providing adequate funding for the school district."
When the school board's finance committee meets at 7 tonight at the RSU's central office at 150 Highland Ave. in Gardiner, administrators will present budget cuts for board members to consider.
Hopkins declined to share specifics before presenting them to the school board, but she said they will look at a variety of options.
"We have to look at buildings. We have to look at staff. We have to look at programs. We have to look at how we provide transportation services," Hopkins said.
She said the number of school buildings the district operates reduces its state funding. That's because staffing the buildings requires more personnel — particularly library and administrative staff — than the state's Essential Programs and Services model provides based on enrollment.
In February, RSU 11 had 2,128 students. According to the district's monthly enrollment report, four of the five elementary schools are below capacity, but Helen Thompson School in West Gardiner had 293 students in a building with capacity of 260.
The administrators' requested budget is $721,472 higher than this year's budget. Most of the net increase is in personnel, including $205,190 from salaries, $219,545 from a projected 10 percent increase in health insurance premiums and $300,901 in contributions to the state pension fund.
The Maine Department of Education projects additional state subsidy for RSU 11 of $135,390 to partially offset the pension contributions, which are a new obligation for school districts in the governor's proposed biennial budget. That still will leave the district's subsidy $266,209 lower than this year.
Susan McMillan — 621-5645