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Elementary school project absorbs state aid hike for Freeport, Pownal, Durham

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Elementary school project absorbs state aid hike for Freeport, Pownal, Durham

FREEPORT — Regional School Unit 5 is one of a few school districts expected to see a funding increase from the state in 2010-2011, but Superintendent Shannon Welsh said the number is misleading.

She said when state aid from last year – $4.9 million – is compared to the $5.1 received this year, it appears as if RSU 5 receives an increase of $138,000 in state subsidy.

But, Welsh said, the district is building a $23.7 million elementary school in Durham, and there is $1.04 million in debt to be accounted for. Welsh said RSU 5 pays the bill, and the state refunds the money to the district.

The problem is that the money paid back by the state goes exclusively to the elementary school project, not teacher salaries, heating oil, or other classroom expenses and programs.

When the $1.04 million in debt is subtracted from the $5.1 million the district will receive this year, Welsh said RSU 5 is left with $4.1 million to be used for education and programs – a $900,000 reduction in state aid from last year.

"In addition to the reduction in subsidy for programs at the schools, we had a $650,000 curtailment this year," she said. "With the projected numbers and the current budget, we are looking at a $1.5 million reduction over the next two years."

To make up for the $650,000 curtailment, RSU 5 froze spending on non-essential items, relied on staffing changes to reduce salary and benefit costs, and left positions vacant instead of filling them. Welsh said nearly $150,000 was retained in tuition income from Durham students attending Freeport High School instead of going outside the district.

To educate the public about the anticipated state reductions for fiscal year 2010-2011, Welsh said she will visit schools in Pownal, Durham and Freeport to explain the subsidy reductions and get public feedback.

She met with 70 members of the Pownal community Tuesday, Feb. 2 and is expected to go to the Durham Elementary School at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 11. There will be a meeting at Freeport High School at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 22 and at Mast Landing at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 23.

Welsh will compile the information gathered from the public and present ideas to the RSU 5 Board of Directors on Feb. 24.

"These cuts are why educators are so concerned about the future," she said. "We are dealing with reductions in already tight times. We just have to keep planning."

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net