RSU 1 superintendent says 84% state subsidy loss ‘optimistic’

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BATH — The Regional School Unit 1 superintendent said last week that a projected 84 percent cut in state subsidy in the next few years might actually be optimistic.

The $7.7 million RSU 1 received for fiscal 2010 may dwindle to $1.2 million at the start of the fiscal 2014 budget year, Superintendent William Shuttleworth told the RSU 1 Board of Directors Dec. 22. That loss amounts to more than 26 percent of the current budget, he said.

“Quite frankly I’d say that’s a positive projection,” he said later in the week. “The state’s got to turn around and have some anticipated revenue for that to happen. … I see this as headed toward a dark hole unless something radically happens. I don’t see an economic plan for this state right now.”

Shuttleworth said he learned of the school system’s projected costs a few weeks ago during a meeting of Mid-Coast superintendents and Jim Rier, finance director for the Maine Department of Education.

The superintendent said RSU 1 faces a potential loss in state funding of about $1.4 million next year, followed by $2.4 million the next year and $2.6 million the year afterward.

“We’re going to have to radically rethink how education is delivered, and continue to provide that opportunity for kids to get the education that they need with thetaxpayers’ ability to pay it,” Shuttleworth said.

RSU 1 is already coping with a state subsidy loss of nearly $600,000, the impact of a $63 million state spending curtailment ordered this fall by Gov. John Baldacci that includes a $38 million cut in Education Department funds to support local schools. Shuttleworth and his staff planned to cover much of the loss through staff development cuts and not filling vacant positions.

“We’re really a tight program,” he said. “I pride ourselves (on) being a very efficient delivery system; I don’t know what else we could do differently now.”

One means of cost efficiency RSU 1 sought was through consolidation, through which Bath schools worked to merge with the former School Union 47 towns of Arrowsic, Phippsburg, West Bath and Woolwich prior to the statewide consolidation mandate.

Shuttleworth said he has “given every principal and administrator who’s in charge of a cost center a breakdown of every single dollar that they are responsible for in their program. Salaries, materials, benefits of any kind. And this is the first timethey’ve actually been aware of every dollar that they are responsible for.”

He said he will meet with those people Jan. 5, having allowed them time during Christmas vacation to discuss cuts in their respective areas.

While Shuttleworth acknowledged that the holidays are not the ideal time for such a review, he said, “with all the dialogue coming out of Augusta about this, Ididn’t feel that I wanted to sit on it, knowing that it was coming, and have people feel that I had information I didn’t share with them. … Good or bad, I feel that people have the right to know that information.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or [email protected].

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.