Cumberland-North Yarmouth school budget could cost up to 30 jobs

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CUMBERLAND — The superintendent’s draft fiscal 2011 budget would eliminate the jobs of up to 30 employees in School Administrative District 51.

Residents of Cumberland and North Yarmouth stood wall to wall and sat on the floor in a packed Town Hall Council Chambers on Monday night for the budget presentation to the School Board by Superintendent of Schools Robert Hasson.

Many expressed concern about potential tax increases – 77 cents per $1,000 of property valuation in Cumberland, or a 5.29 percent hike, and 66 cents per $1,000 in North Yarmouth, a rise of 5.52 percent – and there was the threat of taxpayer backlash if teachers and other district employees receive contractual raises.

The budget would remain at $28 million for the third year in a row, as directed by the board, with reductions totaling $1.44 million to keep it flat.

Revenues are projected to drop $1.3 million, from $12.8 million to $11.5 million, including a nearly $800,000 reduction in state aid.

Enrollment is projected to drop by 44 students next year. Drowne Road School in Cumberland would see the largest decrease, 49 students, while North Yarmouth Memorial School would see the only increase, gaining 30 students.

Hasson said 25 full-time equivalent positions are endangered by the declining enrollment and the no-growth budget goal.

Among proposed reductions are two full-time equivalent first-grade teachers at Mabel I. Wilson School in Cumberland, two full-time equivalent fifth-grade teachers at North Yarmouth Memorial School and sixth- and eighth-grade full-time equivalent teachers at Greely Middle School. A part-time music teacher for Mabel I. Wilson, Drowne Road and Greely Middle schools could also be cut, along with 10 full-time equivalent educational technicians.

Hasson said between 25 and 30 employees could lose their jobs.

He said he is “saddened and disappointed that this is the budget that I am required to present to the board and to the public,” adding later that “I wish that we’d been able to anticipate the worldwide financial crash. … I wish that there was a way that we did not have to affect many, many people’s lives, as this budget does. I am very sorry about that.”

A major budget driver for next year is nearly $870,000 to fund teacher salary increases built into the final year of a three-year contract.

While the first years of the contract saw moderate increases, Hasson said, “it was specifically negotiated … to load that third year (with larger increases). That was based on (the fact that) we were still building, we were bringing debt on.”

The raises are as low as 3.99 percent, and most are under 10 percent, although the increases range as high as 25.76 percent.

“Since the increase in teacher salaries for next year … represents a large portion of the increase in operating costs, the (board) recently asked (the SAD 51 Education Association) to look at ways they might help alleviate the situation through some measure of salary negotiations,” said union President Connie Russell, a teacher at Mabel I. Wilson School.

While the union members are “keenly aware of the seriousness of these cuts and the impact they will have on our students, programs and positions,” and they took the board’s request quite seriously, Russell said, the members of the teachers’ bargaining unit voted March 4 “not to enter into negotiations with the board to consider concessions to their contract as a way to address the budget shortfall.”

She said the decision was not just about teachers wanting to keep their pay increase.

“It actually began two master contracts ago,” Russell said, “when teachers agreed to lower pay increases – less than the cost of living during those years – to offset double-digit increases in health insurance premiums and the threats posed by tax cap legislation.”

While the current contract became known as the “catch-up” contract, that is something of a misnomer, Russell said.

“In the current year, a teacher in our district with 20 years experience and a master’s degree will make an average of over $8,000 less, or 14 percent less, than his or her counterpart in our neighboring towns,” she explained. “Our teachers’ lifetime earnings have already been impacted through previous concessions and these earnings will continue to lag behind competing districts, even with next year’s raise in place.”

Her explanation failed to satisfy Dave Swan of the Cumberland Taxpayers Association. He said “we are organizing our membership’s position against any budget which includes a pay increase for any MSAD 51 employee.”

Swan said the neighboring communities Russell mentioned “have a tax base which is substantially different than ours. Our teachers are still compensated above the state average.”

Paul Napolitano, chairman of the North Yarmouth Board of Selectmen, also expressed concern about the proposed tax rate increase and the teacher raises. He said “somebody needs to give a little bit here.”

SAD 51 board Chairman David Perkins said the district will honor its contract with the teachers.

“We’re going to keep our relationships with the teachers very respectful, but we’re going to continue to try to find ways to solve problems. And then, next year when we renegotiate the (next) contract, it will obviously be a different economic environment than the one that we negotiated three years ago, before the recession.”

Perkins said the budget will continue to be refined. There will be another opportunity for public comment on April 5, when the board is scheduled to adopt a preliminary budget. That will be followed by an April 15 public hearing, a May 3 School Board vote, a June 3 district-wide vote, and the June 8 budget validation referendum.

“The board’s thinking will change over time as we get input,” Perkins said. “There are going to be multiple opportunities for people to give input.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.