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Mid-Coast school districts adjust to new state subsidy cuts

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Mid-Coast school districts adjust to new state subsidy cuts

BATH — School districts in the Mid-Coast and all over Maine are coping with a $63 million state spending curtailment ordered by Gov. John Baldacci that includes a $38 million cut in Education Department funds to support local schools.

Regional School Unit 1 Superintendent William Shuttleworth was among Maine school administrators warned to prepare for the massive cuts. He expected a cut in state aid of about $560,000, which he planned to cover without cutting staff and by finding in staff development and unfilled positions.

Last week, Shuttleworth said, he learned the curtailment will mean a loss of more than $594,000 for RSU 1, a 2.6 percent reduction in the state and local-approved spending total.

"We're right down to the wire, anyway; $34,000 doesn't sound like a lot of money, but it is a lot of money right now," Shuttleworth said. "I'm cutting things really close ... obviously we have to look at everything."

Shuttleworth said his intent is still to find savings without cutting jobs and negatively impacting children.

He criticized the way Baldacci handled the state's looming budgetary challenges.

"When the state knew that they were in this situation, I felt that it was imperative that the governor call the Legislature back in session (in July) to address this, because I think this is mission-critical to the state," he said. "... Here you are, now, headed toward December, when the fiscal year is six months old. So it's not like I can cut back out of this money from a $25 million budget which I have; I already spent half of it. And every cost center in the state is that way."

The superintendent also said that "as bad as these cuts are, they would have been a lot easier to make if we had started in July instead of starting in December."

In Brunswick, Baldacci's updated curtailment also cuts more deeply than originally anticipated. The district will have to slash nearly $670,000 from its budget, resulting in a 2.2 percent decrease from the spending plan ratified by the Town Council and voters in June. This is about $5,700 more than the school system's original expected cut.

Earlier this month, Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said Brunswick would use savings from its freeze on non-essential programs and materials to meet the curtailment order. Perzanoski said the district saved $3.6 million during the freeze and unanticipated federal funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Assistant Superintendent Greg Bartlett said Monday that although the district is positioned to absorb the curtailment order this year, officials worry about its long-term impacts in the upcoming budget.

"We're doing everything we can not to impact students directly," Bartlett said. "The things we can do without, we'll have to do without."

School Administrative District 75 Superintendent Mike Wilhelm was initially told to expect a $410,000 cut. The district took a conservative approach, though, and found savings totaling $450,000 through freezing spending in parts of its fiscal 2010 budget. The district will actually see a cut of nearly $414,000, or 1.2 percent of the budget.

Some of the savings involve not filling vacant positions, and no personnel cuts have been planned. Money not to be spent includes staff savings of more than $178,000, while $75,000 will be saved in the district's contingency fund. The district also plans to save about $32,600 by doing without two self-contained Educational Technician III positions, which Wilhelm said may need to be filled should the need arise.

Steve Mistler contributed to this story. Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.