May 13, 2013

SAD 54 proposes chopping 18 jobs to lower budget's tax-hike hit

Cuts would lower potential 12 percent property tax hike to 3.5 percent

SKOWHEGAN — Skowhegan-based School Administrative District 54's board is proposing to cut 18 full- and part-time jobs to avoid a double-digit tax increase in district towns.

PROJECTED TAX INCREASES IN SCHOOL ADMINISTRATIVE DISTRICT 54

• Canaan: $34,224

• Cornville: $26,681

• Mercer: $13,638

• Norridgewock: $48,950

• Skowhegan: $313,410

• Smithfield: $42,386

The board chopped the proposed budget for the coming year down from an 11 or 12 percent increase to a 3.5 percent tax increase for towns.

The cuts will be achieved by not filling vacancies left from retiring teachers and by reducing existing staff positions from full time to part time, with no actual layoffs.

School Superintendent Brent Colbry, who will present the budget to Skowhegan selectmen Tuesday, said 75 staff positions have been cut or reduced during the past five years.

Colbry said the school board trimmed about $1 million from the proposed budget in work sessions this past month.

The final budget figure to be brought to district voters is $32,894,711, which is $562,114 more than that of the current budget that expires June 30. The 3.5 percent tax increase to district towns represents $479,292.

Of the $1 million in cuts, $414,427 was found in not replacing staff members who are retiring. Those include three elementary school teachers, an elementary school social worker and a part-time nurse.

Positions that will not be filled, at a savings of $212,364, include a half-time physical education teacher, a three-quarter-time art teacher, a middle school alternative education teacher and half-time business, mathematics and home economics teachers, Colbry said.

An additional $349,663 was removed in part by cutting the full-time adult education director to three-quarter-time and taking $30,000 from extra-curricular budget and $50,000 from textbook purchases. Fuel and electricity savings and a new contract for bus services allow for further reductions.

Colbry said budget plans also include moving all in-town Skowhegan sixth-graders — 130 in all — from Bloomfield Elementary School to an empty pod at the middle school next year to save $16,000 per year on rent for a portable classroom.

"This budget started up almost $1.6 million over this current year," he said. "The board has worked incredibly hard over the past few months, week after week after week, to reduce that number to where the local appropriations will be under $500,000."

Colbry said the district expects to be hit hard with an 11 percent increase in the cost of employee health insurance, a projected shift of $394,000 in Maine state retirement costs and $660,000 in new charter school costs for School Administrative District 54 students attending the Cornville Regional Charter School and the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Fairfield.

He said there are no salary increases in the proposed budget. Colbry, who earns $110,000 annually, plus benefits, said he negotiated a 2 percent raise in his new five-year contract two years ago and that will be his final raise in pay before he retires.

The district budget meeting is set for 7 p.m. May 28 in the high school gymnasium. The budget validation referendum vote is scheduled for June 11 in each town.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367
dharlow@centralmaine.com

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