Pre-kindergarten slots among possible cuts in Bath-area school budget

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BATH — Next year’s Regional School Unit 1 budget could increase by about $475,000, or nearly 1.9 percent, to $26 million – despite cuts in programs and staffing.

Taxes would provide $17.3 million of the proposed fiscal 2013 budget, which had a first reading Monday night. The five RSU 1 communities – Bath, Arrowsic, Phippsburg, West Bath and Woolwich – could face an average 2.51 percent tax increase, although the distribution varies widely.

Woolwich would see the greatest increase – a nearly 10 percent climb to $3.4 million. That increase is primarily related to Woolwich’s increase in state valuation, Superintendent Patrick Manuel said last week.

Arrowsic’s school taxes would increase 5.42 percent, to nearly $450,000; Bath’s would rise 1.53 percent, to $8.3 million; Phippsburg’s would decrease 1.71 percent, to $2.7 million, and West Bath’s would increase 0.77 percent, to $2.6 million.

Manuel in January was expecting a $1 million shortfall for RSU 1 next year, thanks to the loss of nearly $480,000 in federal job stabilization funds, as well as a projected $500,000 in increased costs for fuel and heating oil, health insurance, and the food service program.

While RSU 1 could receive a $1.4 million increase in state aid for fiscal 2013 – an increase to nearly $8 million, and a change of pace from recent years – it also has to use nearly $800,000 of that money to fund debt service for the Woolwich Central School, which is being rebuilt.

“We’re proposing a … pretty good-sized reduction to our pre-(kindergarten) program,” Manuel said. “We’ve had that program for a while, and we’re very proud of it. To reach the kids early is very important to us. But what we’re trying to do is balance the amount of money that we devote to that program … with other things in our pre-K to (grade) 12 system, so that we can make sure that we provide a quality education for kids.”

The district, which funds tuition for pre-K students, is considering reducing the number of slots it offers from 71 to 53. Staff time could also be reduced, resulting in a $130,000 total cost reduction.

Another potential cut could be the composites program at the Bath Regional Career and Technical Center, which would result in a teaching position being eliminated. A Bath Middle School foreign language position could also be eliminated, Manuel said. The two cuts together could save about $135,000.

A public budget forum will be held at the Fisher-Mitchell School in Bath at 6 p.m. Monday, April 9. Another will follow at Bath Middle School at 6 p.m. Monday, April 23.

The second budget reading on May 7 will be followed by two public votes: a Town Meeting-style gathering on June 5, and a budget validation referendum a week later.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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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.