April 4, 2011

RSU 18 superintendent shaking up budget presentation

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

OAKLAND -- Don't expect the proposed 2011-12 school budget for Regional School Unit 18 to be presented Wednesday in the same old way.

Superintendent Gary Smith said officials are looking at the budget in a new way and plan to use a video and people affected by the budget, including parents and teachers, to help present it.

"I really changed my thinking, and I'm presenting an educational plan or a business plan for what I want to accomplish," Smith said Thursday. "Even though we have a very difficult budget, I am very happy where we ended up."

The RSU 18 Board of Directors meeting will be at 7 p.m. at Messalonskee Middle School.

Smith would not reveal the amount of the proposed budget until Wednesday when board members see it for the first time, but he said it is substantially lower than the current $33.4 million budget.

"This is the year of the funding cliff, and Gov. (Paul) LePage put in another $22 million for education; it didn't seem to flow to our district," Smith said.

Because of town evaluations and a slightly lower student count, the district is slated to lose about $1.6 million in the 2011-12 budget, he said.

But retired debt service, fewer tuitioned students and not filling positions that became open have allowed for some savings, he said. The district also found ways to be creative, he said.

For instance, the central office was reorganized after the school's business manger left in February, which saved the district $60,000 to $70,000, according to Smith. RSU 18 also is collaborating with Alternative Organizational Structure 92, based in Waterville, on some costs.

A space issue at the James Bean School in Sidney was resolved by rearranging the school and not having to spend a significant amount of money, Smith said.

"We now have as much space as we need -- and an extra room," he said. "That, to me, was remarkable."

The board will not vote Wednesday on the budget. More meetings will be held at 6 p.m. April 11, 12 and 13 at the Middle School to go over the 11 cost centers in the proposal and fine- tune them, Smith said. The board then will adopt its version of the budget in early May and public hearings will be held on the budget in each district town, Smith said.

The Oakland hearing will be May 9; China, May 10 (tentative); Sidney, May 11; and Belgrade/Rome, May 12.

The board will finalize the budget May 18 and a district budget meeting at which the public will vote on the proposal by cost center will be May 25. The final step is a budget validation referendum June 7 in each of the district towns, according to Smith.

Amy Calder -- 861-9247

acalder@centralmaine.com

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