Budget woes force MSAD 27 to consider school closure, job losses and program cuts

9 April 2014

FORT KENT –A combination of factors have come together to create a $1.7 million budget gap for Maine School Administration District 27. The anticipated budget crisis is forcing district leaders to consider tough choices to bridge the gap, including eliminating programs, positions and closing a school.

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TOUGH CHOICES - MSAD 27 is considering the closure of St. Francis Elementary School as district leaders wrestle with a $1.7 million budget gap.

Superintendent Tim Doak said on Wednesday, April 9, the budget gap originates from, among other factors, a loss of approximately $474,000 from the state because of increased land valuations and a drop in student population.

This year, the total number of students is 969, but will drop to approximately 929 students next year.

The drop in student population also includes a reduction in the number of students in the special education program, which impacts the funds the district receives from the federal government. Combined with the withdrawal of Winterville from the district, the gap amounts to a $1.7 million difference from the $12.5 million budget the school passed last year, said Doak.

Doak said the district faced severe cuts last year and managed to preserve almost all of the services and programs within the district. He said the district cut as much as it could last year, but the cuts the district leadership is anticipating with the current budget cycle will impact programs, services, employees, and the St. Francis Elementary School.

At a school committee budget workshop on Monday, April 7, members of the school board started discussing the elimination of 19.8 positions, which includes almost 10 teachers, an administrator, a receptionist, a custodian, a bus driver and an education technician. The .8 comes from some of the bus driver positions that are less than part-time.

Due to the cuts in faculty, the school will have to raise the maximum number of students in a class to 25 for regular classes and 22 for multi-age classes.

Along with elimination of staff and faculty, the district will need to cut golf, wrestling, track, all JV sports, and the music program. The late bus service will also end.

Doak said, “With this much money, I have no choice.”

He said, with these proposed cuts, the taxes to property owners in each town would still increase by at least 10 percent over last year.  

“The hot potato is the closure of a school in St. Francis,” said Doak.

Why St. Francis?

Doak explained that the district population of elementary students is lowest in St. Francis, and that additional losses in student population are also approaching. Currently there are 30 students at SFES, but only five students in the kindergarten and prekindergarten classes. The other outlying schools of Eagle Lake and Wallagrass have 15 and 16 students in the prekindergarten and kindergarten programs.

The district has called for a public meeting in St. Francis for April 29, and the school board will have a meeting the day after, on April 30.

Doak said the continuing problems of a declining student population will force further cuts in the coming years. “This whole area is seeing reductions in the number of kids we have. I think we are going to see a steady decline for a number of years,” said Doak.

He said the state lawmakers in Augusta need to find a solution. Districts across Maine are facing, and will continue to face, similar budget woes “...unless the state looks at funding education differently with a tax or using the lottery money.”

Comments

Budget woes....my 2cents

...and again it's the Children that will suffer! There are Custodians just standing around at the Elementary School, looking for things to do! We don't need that many at the school. Closing the schools in St.Francis and E.L, great first start. Eliminating Teachers who teach courses like Career Ed. and have the Counselors teach it instead, another good idea. Stop eliminating the Sports programs....the children need that as much as they need math and science....my 2cents.

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BUDGET WOES

Do we really need head janitors at both the high school and elementary school? The janitors know what they have to do and one good head janitor could easily supervise both schools. The outlying schools, especially St. Francis, can easily be absorbed by the Fort Kent Elementary School especially if the sixth grade is moved to the high school with the other middle school grades. We can do without the music program that has been on the decline for several years. There are so many areas that can be reduced without eliminating so many good teachers.

Budget : sherlock

One simple ? . Where would YOU CUT ? Please if you will give the school board some IDEAS ...

really??

I wasn't going to comment but honestly I really feel like this is getting off topic, the school board has an unenviable task of having to let HARD WORKING people go, no matter who you cut the children suffer. Stop singling out groups to cut.. Let's work together and do the BEST we can with a very bad situation. All the people who work for the school district deserve a job, unless you know what goes on in all of these hard working people's home lives you have no right to say who and who should not keep their jobs. MY two cents.

My 2cents cont.

They are all hard working. So were all the people at Kent (old name) At this point, we need to take the emotions out of it and do whats best for the kids. It's sad to see anyone laidoff. They wouldn't be there if they weren't good. This is the topic. Some are going to be cut either way, lets make sure it has the least impact on our children. Nothing personal and certainly not meant to offend. I just hate to see when they talk about cutting sports, I've worked at school and seen the difference, when a kid participates in sports. It helps all aspects of their school experience. I agree they should have known this sooner and let the public know! My 2cents again.

Quelle surprise!

This news comes to us almost at the last minute, packaged as a fiscal "crisis" requiring aggressive and immediate action. But if the problem is declining enrollments, then surely this could have been predicted a long time ago? Surely our administrators (and our Board) have known for a long time that we would face these issues? So why haven't we been discussing our alternatives long before now? The pressing nature of the situation effectively prevents a meaningful discussion of alternatives. The proposed cuts are practically a done deal, simply because we don't have sufficient time or sufficient information to consider alternatives (other than a tax increase, of course). In this way, the public is cut out of the decision-making process. One can only conclude that this style of governance is intentional, and designed to achieve precisely this result. It guarantees that the folks in charge control the outcome. But our educational institutions are at the heart of our community. The health and effectiveness of these institutions will, in large part, determine our fate as a community. These big decisions immediately ahead of us are too important to be made by a handful of administrators. What secret knowledge about our welfare do they possess? Proposing change in this way is a weak form of governance that erodes confidence in public institutions and undermines the health of communities. Wonder why so few people show up for town meeting? It's not because they don't care. It's because they believe that they do not have any meaningful opportunity to participate in the process. They fear that if they speak in opposition to a proposal, they will be scorned, and perhaps punished. They feel the game is probably rigged anyway. So they stay home. But they really do care. It's just that they have lost confidence in the process. If we are going to deal with the challenges we face in a productive, sustainable way, we must begin to restore that confidence. We need to have an honest, open discussion, based upon accurate and complete information. We need to debate the alternatives. This is not an easy process. It requires lots of work. Some of the discussion will be divisive. The outcome is uncertain. In the end, though, our leaders shouldn't be trying to shove solutions down our throats. With good leadership, we can stay focused on the facts and we will make hard choices. People can be trusted to handle the facts, and if given the facts, to make good decisions in the interests of their community. The proposed cuts are yet another round of what are sure to be many more rounds of cutting. The issues are important and difficult. Are there alternatives to shutting down outlying schools? If shut down is inevitable, are we shutting down the right ones? Does it make sense to bus little kids all that distance? Do we really want a school with no music program? Is basketball more worthy of preservation than wrestling? What is the role of sports programs in our schools? Should we have a sport program that maximizes student participation, or maximizes winning teams? And so on. All good questions, worthy of civil discussion. Our leaders should open the discussion, make proposals, provide good information through the media (this publication, the local access TV, public forums, etc.), and keep folks focused on the issues in a civil manner. We should take the time we need to get this right. We should welcome participation by everyone. We should have started this discussion long ago, and it's time to get on with it.

What SURPRISE ?

According to a school board member this discussion ( possible school closing ) has been going on for YEARS nothing NEW ........

Yes, Crybaby, it's been

Yes, Crybaby, it's been discussed by a lot of folks, but not by the school board in a public session where the facts are laid out in grim array. Instead, the board and the administration have seemed to want to avoid a public discussion of the issue -- until it's really too late to consider alternatives. So here we are. For an interesting look back, see the October 8, 2010 edition of this publication, where the editor wrote a fine article about a gathering of folks in Wallagrass who were concerned about proposals to close Wallagrass School. This wasn't a board-sponsored event, as I recall. This event, together with other activism in Wallagrass, may have spared the Wallagrass School - then and perhaps this time. But what do you suppose will be on the chopping block next? "Yea, but it's just inevitable anyway" you might say. Maybe. But I'll bet there are some folks in St. Francis, in Wallagrass, and in Eagle Lake who aren't ready to accept that. We should all have a close look at the facts, all the hard facts, and see if there really are any alternatives. (Me, I'm not convinced we can't do better . . . ) If there just aren't any, then maybe we will all have to accept the inevitable. It will be a lot easier, though, if it's not shoved down our throats. The way it's being done now will only set community against community in what will feel like a raw political power play. At the very least, some measure of this bad feeling can be avoided. At best, creative people may work together to devise a better way to educate our kids in the outlying communities.

Very well written

I have had discussions on many of the topics you touch on. I hope you can attend the meeting tonight and be an active participant.