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South Portland mulls school furlough day, but needs state, union approval

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South Portland mulls school furlough day, but needs state, union approval

SOUTH PORTLAND — The School Board unanimously voted to change the school calendar to preserve the possibility of a furlough day to meet anticipated budget cuts from the state. 

The board voted to change Jan. 15 to a regular student day. The teacher in-service day originally scheduled will be moved to April 26, which could become a furlough day. 

The furlough day is part of a larger plan to reduce the current budget by $1.2 million. That plan, however, is contingent upon several variables, including projected savings from teachers turning off more lights in classrooms and removing personal appliances, like microwave ovens, coffee makers and portable heaters.  

Superintendent Suzanne Godin said a furlough day would save the district $140,000, but there is no guarantee the district will be able to implement it, since the district must convince the teacher's union to support the furlough day.

The district must also receive a special waiver from Maine Education Commissioner Susan Gendron, since South Portland only has 175 student school days, the minimum allowed by the state.

Meanwhile, Godin said the district will no longer give office clerks and library workers the option of working on snow days. Historically, those employees could work with pay on snow days and on any make-up days at the end of the year. Based on a five snow-day year, she said, eliminating this option could save the district $6,000 a year.

Godin's curtailment plan also uses $454,000 in federal funds received last year as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and $150,000 in contingency funds. About $7,200 will be saved by freezing nonessential overtime.  

Responding to board member Jerald McQueeney's question about what would happen if the planned savings do not materialize, Godin said there is still another $250,000 in stimulus funds to fall back on. Any deficit, meanwhile, would be filled using surplus funds.

But Godin reminded the board that the budget is already built on $1 million of surplus, a funding level that would need to be maintained in next year's budget, too.

Godin said she expects the school district will save $473,000 through a budget freeze that took effect in October. Included in that amount are not only savings from freezing nonessential spending, field trips and supplies, but anticipated savings from other conservation efforts.

The district could save about $35,000 by turning of classroom lights when they are not needed, she said. Further electrical savings are expected by prohibiting teachers from using personal coffee machines, microwave ovens and portable heaters.

"Most of those appliances do not met OSHA (safety) standards, so we'd be hitting two birds with one stone," Godin said.

While transportation will continue to be provided for extracurricular activities that involve entire groups of students, rides will not be supplied to students going to partial group events, like all-star games or honors music competitions. 

Godin said she was told the music boosters will pick up the slack, but booster President Michael Fletcher said, though the organization is willing to help, it does not want the board to plan budget cuts on the assumption there will be booster support.

"We haven't agreed to anything in theory," Fletcher said. "We are willing to supplement and help out when there is a problem, but not to be just counted on."

Board member James Gilboy was not happy with the plan and wondered if the district could find any loopholes, should the furlough day not be approved. Godin said the state defines a school day as at least 3.5 hours with the district serving lunch. 

"I hate to look for a loophole," Gilboy said. "If there was a way to maneuver a 'half day' that is technically a full day."

Board member Ralph Baxter Jr., who is a curtailment task force member, said the recommendations being proposed are the result of a painful process.

"A lot of time was spent," Baxter said. "And a lot of tears were shed."

Although the curtailment plan does not include the elimination of teaching positions, Godin said everything will be on the table next year.

"I guarantee you we will be talking about positions in next year's budget," she said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net