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