April 1, 2013

Waterville school board approves $644K bite out of budget

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE — The Board of Education on Monday voted 7–0 to cut $644,481 from the proposed 2013-14 school budget in what Superintendent Eric Haley says is one of the worst budget years he has ever seen.

click image to enlarge

Eric Haley, Alternative Organization Structure 92 superintendent, speaks about state budget cuts in January 2012. Haley called this year's school budgeting process, marked by uncertainty over state funding, one of the worst budget years he has ever seen. Waterville Mayor Karen Heck is in the background.

Staff file photo by David Leaming

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School officials do not yet know how much subsidy they will get from the state, whether local schools will have to fund teacher retirement and whether state revenue to municipalities will be cut.

It's difficult to build a budget on those unknowns, school officials and board members agreed.

"There are a lot of 'ifs' at this late juncture," Haley said.

The board started working with a proposed $20.8 million budget which would have represented a 5.59 percent increase over the current budget. The board asked Haley and administrators to come up with proposed cuts.

They did so, decreasing the proposed budget to $20.1 million.

The proposed cuts included slicing $240,884 from the proposed technology budget; $45,000 from central office and school board; $152,742 from George J. Mitchell School; and $28,700 from Waterville Junior High School.

They also included $22,550 from Waterville Senior High School; $13,477, Mid-Maine Technical Center; $27,300, adult education; $3,800, Albert S. Hall School; and $14,314, special education.

A workers' compensation rate change allowed for cutting $6,407 from that budget item, and a projected insurance rate increase of 10 percent turned out to be only 6 percent, allowing for $89,305 to be slashed from that line item.

Board member Pamela Trinward, an advocate for keeping up with technology needs, said that department typically takes the biggest hit.

"At some point, that's too much," she said.

Haley said officials are looking at alternatives for funding some technology needs, but "we do not want to be lugging computers through the front door" and losing staff through the back door.

"There is no question in my mind that staff is the most important thing we have in education," he said.

Schools have taken as many personnel cuts as they can without looking at cutting entire programs, he added.

Monday's meeting came one day before the school board was to meet with the City Council to discuss the proposed school and municipal budgets. They are scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. today in the council chambers at The Center downtown. The proposed municipal budget is $17.1 million.

Meanwhile, Haley said he attended three legislative breakfasts recently and talked to legislators about when schools should hear about the amount of subsidy they will get.

"Every single one said the same thing — June," he said.

Board member Joan Phillips-Sandy wondered aloud how the board can take a final vote on the budget, not knowing final figures, and how it can set a referendum for residents to vote on it.

"I'm not willing to guess," she said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247


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