p-statebudget-011409 Schools spared additional state budget cuts

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PORTLAND — Gov. John Baldacci last week unveiled a fiscal 2010-2011 budget that attempts to reduce spending to meet a $330 million drop in revenues caused by the national recession and an additional structural gap of $508 million.
The $6.1 billion budget, which includes increases to hunting and fishing license fees but no tax increases, is about $200 million less than the 2008-09 budget. It’s the first time a biennial budget has shrunk since records started being kept in 1974 by the Department of of Administrative and Financial Services.
“Our parents and grandparents suffered through the Depression and World War,” Baldacci said last Friday. “They understood that tough times require sacrifice and ingenuity.”
The budget is not good news for state agencies, which will lose 219 jobs that will require 139 layoffs. Also, state employees making at least $50,000 a year would also have to contribute to their insurance costs under the proposed budget.
Some school administrators, meanwhile, are breathing a sigh of relief that the budget does not include any further reductions in education spending beyond the governor’s $80 million curtailment order.
Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said that, while no further reductions are proposed in the $958 million 2010-11 education budget, individual communities may not get the same funding as this year, since the state will still have to calculate allocations through its complex formula.
Interim Superintendent Jeanne Whynot-Vickers said she is planning on a $1.8 million reduction in education funds from the state – a far better situation than cutting up to $6 million, an extreme projection that administrators were preparing for.
“Right now, $1.8 million is difficult, because we have contracts built in,” Whynot-Vickers said. “But it is still something I can tackle without a devastating effect on the system.”
Meeting the cut will still require sacrifices and changes in the way the district delivers some services. Whynot-Vickers said she will continue to meet with school unions to find concessions on contractual areas expected to increase costs to the district.
Whynot-Vickers expects next year’s budget, which is currently being developed, will eliminate 10 teaching positions intended to keep staffing in line with a decrease in student enrollment. Administrative cuts will also be considered, as well as staffing reductions in food services and custodial positions, she said.
Whynot-Vickers is also seeking ways to reduce costs for substitute teachers, instead asking paid staffers and administrators to fill in. About $200,000 of the district’s $600,000 budget for substitutes has been expended, she said. Another $200,000 will be needed to cover long-term absences, but Whynot-Vickers is looking to save a portion of the remaining $200,000.
Also, changes made to the teachers’ contract and a bus maintenance agreement with South Portland are expected to ease budget pressures.
The city, meanwhile, is still digesting the governor’s proposed two-year budget.
Finance Director Ellen Sanborn said she doesn’t expect city services to be greatly affected by the state cuts, since the city only receives assistance in three areas: Health and Human Services, revenue sharing and street paving.
“We really don’t have a lot of programs that rely on the state,” Sanborn said.
The most susceptible area is the city’s revenue-sharing agreement with the state, which returned to the city $7.5 million last year. The governor has proposed a 10-percent reduction in the amount given back to communities.
The 2010-11 budget does set aside $1.5 million in incentive funds for municipalities that consolidate services and administrative functions with regional school units.
The governor’s spokesman, David Farmer, said the proposed budget must still be vetted and approved by the Legislature.

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