Bath-area School Board sends nearly $25M budget to voters

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BATH — The Regional School Unit 1 Board of Directors unanimously adopted a more than $24.8 million budget for fiscal 2011 on Tuesday.

Now the spending plan is in voters’ hands. A public meeting at Bath Middle School on June 1 will precede the budget validation referendum June 8.

Next year’s budget is down 0.53 percent from the current year. But the local contribution would increase nearly 1 percent, or about $160,000, to $16.6 million in fiscal 2011.

The district expects significant revenue reductions, including a more than $400,000 cut in state subsidy.

“It is the result of some tough economic times that we make these recommendations,” Superintendent of Schools William Shuttleworth said. “I wish I could say that the following year, in 2011-12, the dark cloud of the economy would evaporate … but that’s not likely to happen, folks.”

Shuttleworth said on Wednesday that the fiscal 2011 budget is aided by about $1.5 million in federal stimulus money.

“If we didn’t have that,” he said, “can you imagine where we’d be (for fiscal 2011)? That’s where we’re going to be (in fiscal 2012).”

Three of the district’s communities would see their contributions decline through RSU 1’s cost-sharing formula: Arrowsic, down 16 percent to more than $407,000; Phippsburg, down 3.58 percent to $2.85 million, and West Bath, down 0.58 percent to $2.51 million.

Bath would contribute $7.84 million, 0.62 percent more than the current year, and Woolwich would pay nearly $3 million, an increase of 11.57 percent.

Shuttleworth said Woolwich’s significant increase is due to an increase in property value and a student enrollment hike attributed to construction of a new school, which opens in September 2012.

While a draft of the budget that Shuttleworth proposed last month eliminated about a dozen employees, the final spending plan restored four Morse High School positions – two social studies teachers, an English teacher and science teacher. A system grant writer was also introduced.

Still, five teachers would be cut in the draft budget in kindergarten through eighth-grade foreign language, while one teacher will retire. Elementary school foreign language classes would shift from classroom instruction to Web-based learning; RSU 1 is considering language instruction products such as Rosetta Stone for this purpose, and a world language technology integration specialist will be hired to help all schools acclimate to Web-based learning.

Marie James, who teaches French in kindergarten and second and fourth grades, proposed reinstating two language teachers. She said the cost of salaries and benefits would be a little less than the amount budgeted for the computer program and the related technician.

James said the six-teacher staff would teach Spanish and French classes to grades 7 through 12 through a sequential program in line with the Maine Learning Results. She also noted that with an additional $2,400, the world language department could pilot Rosetta Stone as a supplemental resource.

“In looking at how to best deliver world language to students, it’s a really difficult concept to think that it can be taught at this age level just through computers,” James told the School Board. “If it were used as a supplemental program, that’s one thing. But to think that even third- and fourth-graders will sit in front of a computer, and that that’s the way that they’re going to get taught context, that they’re going to get the cultural component, that they’re going to get the grammar – it just isn’t there.”

She added later that “our fear is to jump into something totally new, without having any background in it, without it having been tested … and implement that as a world language program.”

Board member Tim Harkins noted that the public undergoes a two-part process to pass the budget, and that if the community desires the two language positions be reinstated, the School Board could support that.

However, he said, “we would have to see the funding to support that, and that support has got to come from the community.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or [email protected].

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.