South Portland school cuts target 31 jobs, 1 middle school

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The superintendent of schools presented a $39.4 million budget proposal Wednesday night that includes the elimination of 31 jobs.

Superintendent Suzanne Godin’s budget would require 29 layoffs, including four teachers, nine assistant coaches, two Central Office staffers and a nurse. Five special education positions are also proposed for elimination, along with several other full- and part-time jobs. Two positions are vacant.

The reduction in staffing, however, is only expected to reduce costs by $767,000.

Even using $1.2 million from surplus, the School Board must now consider another $2.6 million in cost-cutting measures to meet the City Council’s directive to deliver a budget that does not increase taxes.

Godin said a $2.3 million reduction in state education funding, along with a nearly $275,000 reduction in state and federal grants, is forcing the district to consider drastic changes.

Those changes include layoffs, closing Mahoney Middle School in 2011, increasing third-grade class sizes, outsourcing custodial services and instituting pay-to-participate extracurricular activities.

“None of these proposals are where we want to be,” Godin said.

Board members agreed.

“I’m going to have a hard time supporting a budget that has this kind of impact on kids,” Chairman Richard Carter said. “We need to present a budget that is best for the city.”

Carter said he and other area school leaders were headed to Augusta on Thursday, Feb. 25, to lobby the Legislature for more education funding in light of a better-than-expected state revenue forecast.

Meanwhile, Vice Chairman Ralph Baxter said a similar lobbying effort should take place with the City Council, which sets the threshold for school spending.

“I think (a) zero (percent increase) is irresponsible,” Baxter said. “We, as a board, need to decide what’s best.”

While most school districts are struggling to cope with reductions in state education aid, South Portland’s school structure puts it in a particularly precarious position. The district has middle and elementary schools that are outside the state funding formula.

That leads to a greater reliance on local taxes to pay for staff, administration and other operating costs.

The city could save $900,000 by closing Mahoney Middle School in 2011, although Godin said the school could operate next year using some of the $1.9 million in stimulus funds that must be spent by the end of September.

The board will also consider outsourcing custodial services, which could save nearly $920,000.

Another $120,000 in savings is being eyed from implementation of a tiered, pay-to-participate system for co-curricular activities. The School Department now spends nearly $757,000 on the activities – significantly more than the state funding formula allowance of under $157,000.

The proposed budget also includes a proposal to turn over the Hamlin School on Ocean Street to the city, which would use the space for its Planning and Development offices. The district’s off-campus program for students having difficulty in high school and special education students would be moved from Hamlin to South Portland High School.

The board is scheduled to discuss the superintendent’s proposals for pay-to-participate co-curriculars, outsourcing custodial services and a realignment of information literacy and technology at a Feb. 25 workshop at Small Elementary School, starting at 7 p.m.

The board is scheduled to discuss the proposals to close Mahoney Middle School and increase third-grade class sizes at a March 1 workshop at 7 p.m. at Skillin Elementary School.

Mahoney Middle School is reserved for Tuesday, March 2, to discuss any remaining budget issues.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or