Proposed school budget shrinks in Freeport, Pownal, Durham, but avoids job, program cuts

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FREEPORT — The first budget presentation in Regional School Unit 5 was rolled out Tuesday night with a 2.7 percent reduction from last year.

Superintendent Shannon Welsh said the $597,000 reduction projected in the fiscal 2011 budget was achieved without eliminating educational programs or personnel.

The biggest change, she said, is the recommendation to reduce three middle school teaching positions in Pownal, and shift the students to schools in Freeport or Durham. The adjustment will save the district $180,000 and the teachers will be able to take other positions within the school system due to retirements. The RSU will provide Pownal students with transportation to the other schools.

“This recommendation comes from parents, the recent survey, and word on the street,” Welsh said. “We also heard that the pre-K through fifth-grade program needs to be retained at the Pownal school.”

She said Pownal residents and parents voiced a strong desire to have the school retain vitality and vibrancy with before- and after-school programs and adult education.

Welsh said student enrollment numbers also supported the proposal. There are currently 37 students projected in grades 6-8 at Pownal School. Those students could be assimilated into the Freeport and Durham middle schools while retaining class sizes of 19-21 students per grade.

In addition, 55 more students are expected to enroll at Freeport High School instead of attending other schools in the area, reducing tuition costs by $140,000. 

While valuation numbers are not expected until April, and tax rates cannot be calculated per household, Finance Director Diane Boucher said Freeport will face a slight increase of nearly $13,000, but Pownal and Durham will see reductions. Pownal will save about $5,000 and Durham nearly $22,000 in taxes.

Chairman Nelson Larkins said he was very pleased to hear there was restructuring, and an avoidance of staff and program cuts.

“This may be proving that the concept of consolidation does save money,” he said. “We are seeing some economies of size and some efficiencies, and while there are uncertainties ahead, we’ve come a long way.”

Nearly 20 residents and administrators from the three towns attended the budget presentation on Tuesday, March 9. There was another presentation Wednesday, March 10, and another is scheduled on March 24 at 6:30 p.m. in the Freeport High School Cafeteria.

The budget and accompanying documents are posted at RSU5.org.

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

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