RSU 1 chief hopes to limit budget hike to 3%
BATH — The superintendent of Regional School Unit 1 said Monday that he would be "thrilled" if he can hold an upcoming budget increase to 3 percent.
William Shuttleworth said he expects a draft fiscal 2010 budget to be available for RSU 1's March board meeting.
While he is trying to keep the budget as flat as possible, he said, "the needs of kids don't decrease. You want to continue to add. We made a commitment when we developed this RSU that we were going to create a world-class school system, and you can't do that by letting dust settle on excellence. You've got to constantly improve and find different ways of serving kids."
Shuttleworth said the toughest aspect of building a budget is balancing the needs of students with the ability of taxpayers to foot the education bill.
"Obviously we're looking at a tight budget," he said, adding that RSU 1 has yet to receive information on one important factor, state subsidy, and that it may not have that information until next month.
RSU 1 lost about $400,000 from its fiscal 2009 budget late last year, in addition to a previous reduction of more than $1 million in state subsidy for that year. Shuttleworth said there has been discussion that the federal stimulus package may restore the $400,000, which he explained could offset expenses this year and provide a small financial cushion going into fiscal 2010.
Shuttleworth said he suspects the RSU's subsidy could decrease by at least $500,000 in fiscal 2010.
While RSU 1 is accounting for a decrease in state funding, expenses such as teacher contracts are going in the other direction, with 3 or 4 percent increases. Shuttleworth said his salary will not increase.
"Seventy-five percent of (the budget) is salaries and benefits," Shuttleworth said. "And when you have the fixed overhead of running a building and transportation, there are very few areas to make substantial cuts."
Along with built-in pay raises, other cost increases Shuttleworth expects include electricity, fuel, transportation, maintenance expenses, supplies and food.
While athletics are often targeted during times of financial hardship, the superintendent explained that only 1 cent on the dollar goes toward those programs.
Shuttleworth said he anticipates three or four retirements, "and we'll make the decision of whether ... we need to fill those positions. I hate to cut any teaching positions, because obviously they wouldn't be in the budget if we didn't need them."
The school unit still plans to add to its curriculum, including introducing three new advanced placement classes at Morse High School next year: biology, physics and calculus.
On the younger end of the education spectrum, Shuttleworth said, "we have identified, at the board level, that pre-K education was our No. 1 goal, and that we're going to try to do that in an incremental process over three years."
The first year of that expansion could cost about $200,000, but Shuttleworth called it money well spent, not only for the children, but also because it will increase RSU 1's student enrollment by 50.
Since the state's Essential Programs and Services formula uses student population and town valuation to calculate how much subsidy each community receives, and towns with shrinking student numbers and growing values tend to receive less money, Shuttleworth said he expects RSU 1 to benefit in the long run from the student population boost. He said the state recognizes 4-year-olds at a slightly higher per-pupil rate than it does other students.
"It's to our advantage, not only programmatically and educationally," he said, "... but economically it pays for itself."
Shuttleworth said RSU 1 plans to increase its focus on technology and continue its commitment to literacy and wellness.
"During dark economic times," he said, "you still want to make sure you that do the right things for kids."