December 27, 2012

School districts call midyear budget cuts a tough assignment

Governor's spending curtailment order sends districts scrambling to find cuts as students ready to return to classes

By Susan McMillan
Staff Writer

If finding places to save money in a school district is difficult during the spring budget season, it's even tougher when students are about to return from winter break, local superintendents said Thursday.

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Proposed cuts to local schools Curtailment Percentage of budget

RSU 18 ( Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome, Sidney) $211,469 0.7

RSU 54 ( Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan, Smithfield) 179,388 0.6

Augusta 167,898 0.7

RSU 12 ( Alna, Chelsea, Palermo, Somerville, Westport Island, Whitefield, Windsor, Wiscasset) 146,728 0.6

RSU 2 ( Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell, Monmouth, Richmond) 138,853 0.6

RSU 9 ( Chesterville, Farmington, Industry, New Sharon, New Vineyard, Starks, Temple, Vienna, Weld, Wilton) 135,250 0.5

RSU 11 ( Gardiner, Pittston, Randolph, West Gardiner) 101,453 0.5

RSU 49 ( Albion, Benton, Clinton, Fairfield) 93,082 0.4

RSU 38 ( Manchester, Mount Vernon, Readfield, Wayne) 90,172 0.7

Waterville 89,105 0.5

RSU 4 ( Litchfield, Sabattus, Wales) 80,630 0.5

Winthrop 66,434 0.7

Winslow 63,816 0.6

Vassalboro 35,123 0.6

Fayette 7,196 0.4

Typically, employees are hired, textbooks are bought and utility rates are set by September, if not sooner.

But Maine's school districts will have to trim millions from their budgets in the second half of the fiscal year to comply with Gov. Paul LePage's curtailment order. District officials were notified on Thursday of how much they would lose in state subsidy.

"When you get to this point, a majority of your funds have been earmarked," said Alan Hawkins, superintendent of Somerville-based Regional School Unit 12. "That's what the finance committee of the RSU is going to have to take a look at to figure out what that all means."

Hawkins already instituted a spending freeze in the fall, after RSU 12 encountered unexpected expenses for special education placements and other needs.

RSU 12 is not spending money on anything that's not absolutely necessary, such as field trips. The district's $146,728 hit from curtailment could require a deeper spending freeze, Hawkins said.

Similar freezes are in place in several other districts as well, including the Augusta School Department, Wales-based RSU 4 and Farmington-based RSU 9.

RSU 9 Superintendent Mike Cormier said the $135,250 cut to his district will hurt, especially because the district already had to hire additional staff due to higher-than-expected enrollment.

But the curtailment could have been worse, he said.

"I'm a little relieved it's not larger, because obviously we had no idea until today how much," Cormier said. "I'm a little comforted that we are picking up about a third of the shortfall, and not more."

The curtailment order cuts state spending by $35.5 million, of which $12.6 million is coming out of the Department of Education. The largest impact will be a $13.4 million cut to the Department of Health and Human Services.


Susan McMillan -- 621-5645


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