Brunswick schools face $2.8M loss from state; staff cuts, larger classes loom

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BRUNSWICK — The School Board on Wednesday prepared for tough choices that could include larger classes and fewer teachers, thanks to worse-than-expected reductions in state subsidy projections released earlier this week.

During the first workshop for the 2010-2011 budget, the board heard again that the district would lose $2.8 million in state assistance, a 9.5 percent reduction from its current year, and $750,000 more than projected two weeks ago.

The state Department of Education released the updated projections Monday, delivering what Superintendent Paul Perzanoski described Wednesday as “a punch in the stomach.”

The cuts are part of $92 million proposed statewide in Gov. John Baldacci’s supplemental budget. If ratified by the state Legislature, Brunswick’s $2.8 million reduction will be the second largest in the state.

Portland, which learned that it will lose $3.3 million in state aid, tops the list in cuts.

Brunswick is also facing a $670,00 curtailment from its current budget, a reduction that will require taking money from the district’s fund balance.

The district could have to tap the fund balance again to close the gap in the 2010-2011 budget.

After Wednesday’s workshop, Perzanoski said Brunswick’s reduction is disproportionate considering the town has a population of about 21,000 – and dropping because of the Brunswick Naval Air Station closure – while Portland has 65,000 residents.

Perzanoski said DOE officials calculated the reduction based on declining school enrollment and 4 percent growth in property values.

Making matters worse, he said, was a 34 percent decrease in federal Impact Aid for students in military families, and a $189,000 decrease in tuition for students from Durham – a byproduct of the school consolidation law.

The result, Perzanoski told the board, means starting the 2010-2011 budget in a $1.5 million hole.

That figure could grow depending on upcoming negotiations with teacher’s union, which were scheduled to begin Thursday.

Perzanoski said he hoped the dire fiscal circumstances would yield concessions from the union.

“Our goal is to make sure the adults feel this more than the students,” he said.

Although Perzanoski said he hopes to reduce staffing through attrition – retirements and resignations – he said additional cuts in staff are “probably necessary.”

School Board Chairman Byron Watson said the dire forecast puts everything on the table, including reviewing privatization of student busing. Although Watson isn’t wedded to the concept, he said it would be irresponsible not to at least consider hiring an outside transportation company. 

“It’s not a hot-button issue for me,” Watson said afterward. “But I think we have to look it, especially since our neighbors in (Regional School Unit 1) are doing it.”

Watson also urged the town’s Legislative delegation to fight the reductions.

“Hopefully they can actually help us,” he said.

Perzanoski said he’d recently met with legislators, but that those discussions had yet to produce tangible results. He said that although the state reductions aren’t final, the district has no choice but to proceed as if they are.

As for privatizing school busing, Perzanoski said he’d seen it work successfully at his former job in Connecticut, but that Brunswick “gets more bang for its buck” because its drivers double as custodians and groundskeepers.

At least two board members agreed.

The workshop also featured presentations from four department heads, each of whom presented no-growth budgets.

The entire Town Council attended the work session. The council will hold a town hall-style forum on the budget Feb. 11. The meeting is designed to weigh citizen priorities for the town’s municipal spending plan.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or