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SAD 75 freezes spending, avoids layoffs

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SAD 75 freezes spending, avoids layoffs

TOPSHAM — Faced with an expected curtailment of funds from the state for the current fiscal year, School Administrative District 75 will save about $450,000 by freezing a variety of expenses.

While some of those savings involve not filling vacant positions, there are no plans to lay off personnel, Superintendent Mike Wilhelm said last week.

The SAD 75 Board of Directors discussed the freeze on Nov. 5 at West Harpswell School.

Wilhelm said the state Department of Education told his district to take its fiscal 2009 curtailment and multiply it by 1.4 to determine its potential curtailment for this year. That formula would result in a loss of $410,000. The district decided to take a more conservative approach.

"That curtailment could increase," Wilhelm said. "It still has to be processed through the Legislature, it has to be run through the funding formula." By freezing more than $450,000 in expenses, "we've found more than enough money, we think, to cover that," he added.

The effects of the curtailment are being felt all over Maine. Regional School Unit 1 in greater Bath, for example, may have to eliminate jobs in response to an expected cut in state aid of at least $500,000. RSU 1 Superintendent William Shuttleworth said late last month that the state may call for cuts of between $50 million to $100 million from the Maine Department of Education, according to preliminary reports.

Wilhelm said budget items cannot be reduced or eliminated, since the fiscal 2010 budget is a voter-approved document that has been submitted to the state and cannot be altered. Still, he explained, the district can elect not to spend all the money that's been budgeted.

"We've gone to every cost center in the district, and we've taken (savings) from every cost center that we have," Wilhelm said. "So it doesn't matter what program it is ... we've looked across the district to find money."

Money that won't be spent will include $6,450 for math books, $2,000 for library books and periodicals, and $1,000 each in general supplies and computer supplies at Mt. Ararat Middle School, and more than $4,900 in co-curricular supplies, about $2,300 in field trip transportation and nearly $4,000 in activities transportation at Mt. Ararat High School.

Staff savings adds up to more than $178,000, and $75,000 will be saved in district's contingency fund. That money is set aside for emergency situations, and board members were concerned that if the money were frozen, the district would not be able to address emergencies, Wilhelm said.

"It is listed because it is hoped that we won't have the emergencies that will require its expenditure," the superintendent wrote last week. "If we had an emergency we would have to spend it and look for money someplace else."

The district 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.

Harpswell school closure

In other business last week, the board discussed the resubmission of its application to the state on the closure of West Harpswell School.

Last month, Education Commissioner Susan Gendron informed SAD 75 that she could not approve its "lack of need" report before it addressed two issues: the district's offer of school choice and its effect on enrollment, and the increase in transportation costs that the closure of the school is expected to trigger.

The Friends for Harpswell Education, a group fighting the school closure, cited both issues in a meeting with Gendron last month.

Wilhelm said SAD 75 may be able to resubmit the application this week. "We want to talk to the Department of Education about where we are with the resubmission," he explained, "and we haven't had an opportunity to do that, so it's just waiting on that."

The School Board voted 13-1 in June to close West Harpswell School. Harpswell residents can vote to keep the school open at a referendum likely to be held next year. If they do, the town would ultimately have to reimburse SAD 75, which would require a Town Meeting vote, too.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.