SAD 61 cuts teacher post, community use funding

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Is $75,000 in additional cuts enough to land a “yes” vote for the SAD 61 proposed budget?

It depends upon whom you ask.

Some directors, such as Laura Ordway of Bridgton and Janice Barter of Naples, believe that the slim margin of defeat (16 votes) at the polls a few weeks ago hardly represents a “mandate” for deeper cuts.

So, after hearing Leadership Team members outline where further cuts could be made, a majority of the school board decided a little trimming was in order.

Presented with three recom­mended cuts, directors chose just two — eliminating a Grade 1 teacher at Stevens Brook Elementary, saving $40,000, and cutting $35,000 to fund commu­nity use of school facilities.

A third cut — a Fine Arts teacher at Lake Region High School for a savings of $37,000 — was narrowly defeated last Thursday at a meeting held at Lake Region Middle School.

Following a 9-3 vote to move forward a $25,807,500 general fund budget to taxpayers in 12 days, Casco Director Donna Norton simply said, “We’ll be back.”

By a 7-3 vote, the proposed $693,733 adult education budget was approved by directors.

Casco rejected the previous budget by 44 votes, which is why Norton wanted to see a cut that topped the $100,000 mark.

“I realize the budget failed by just 16 votes, but in Casco it was 44. Casco sent a strong message that the budget needs to be cut,” Norton said.

Sebago Director Richard Merritt, whose town also defeated the last budget (by 12 votes), also felt a significant cut was needed. During the evening’s discussion, Merritt moved for a $75,000 cut in the district’s technology line and $125,000 from maintenance, thus forcing SAD 61 to use high school construction/renovation funds to address PCB removal — a point strongly suggested by Sebago residents. Both motions failed. He also spoke about whether it is “appropriate” to spend school district money to “subsidize” programs like after-school care.

Since the original budget was proposed, the school board has made reductions totaling $337,000 — $172,000, $90,000 and now $75,000.

This year’s budget includes the first debt service payment of $705,000 on the high school renovation/construction project and the new bus garage/educational building (presently being built).

A third district budget meeting will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 2 at 6:30 p.m. at Lake Region High School.

The Budget Validation referen­dum vote will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 9 in the four district towns. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Where to cut and how much?

Over a three-hour session, directors considered a wide vari­ety of possible cuts from changing the way SAD 61 transports chil­dren (possibly switching from a two-drop system to a one pick-up plan used in SAD 55) to reducing the amount spent on technology to whether some administrator could pick up the duties of the Adult and Community Education director (for a stipend, but at a lower rate than hiring another full-time administrator).

Department Directors Andy Madura and Lisa Caron made compelling comments that there is little left to cut in their respec­tive programs. Madura, who is in charge of transportation, main­tenance and food service, feels there is little to gain trying to revamp the current bus system, saying one move could lead to another major problem — main­ly creating more vehicle traffic at an already congested Songo Locks School drop-off area.

Caron, who is director of Special Education, said her bud­get is directly tied to costs dictat­ed by state regulations regarding services that must be provided under each student’s Individual Education Plan.

Rosie Schacht, director of vocational programming, did jug­gle the Voc Ed and Adult Ed jobs for a period of time, but found that with mandated administra­tive changes, the roles became just too big for one person to tackle effectively.

Ultimately, the main targets were:

Cut: Stevens Brook Grade 1 Teacher, $40,000. Vote: 6-5 to cut the position.

Based on student numbers for the upcoming year, class sizes would be 19, about the same as those at Songo Locks School. Sebago Elementary has 15 stu­dents per class.

There was little discussion on this recommendation.

Cut: Community Use of Facilities, $35,000. Vote: 7-5.

In years past, the budget car­ried a separate line asking taxpay­ers to raise $35,000 to cover the cost of nonprofit groups — such as local rec departments, com­munity theater and before-after school child care programs — to use school facilities.

When the state changed the budgetary process, the separate warrant line was eliminated and the cost was rolled into the gen­eral budget.

If the cut sticks, local rec directors say the fee to use gym­nasiums for winter basketball programs will be passed along to parents. Casco Rec Director Beth Latsey includes $500 in her budget to assist those who apply for scholarships because they are unable to pay registra­tion fees.

The rec youth basketball pro­grams use school gyms for prac­tices and Saturday games over a 12-week period.

“If we are charged to use the facilities, we will have to increase our registration fees,” Latsey said. “What concerns me is that we don’t want to refuse anyone (who is unable to pay the fees) because we don’t want the program to get smaller, we want it to get bigger.”

Rec directors point to a rising trend of more families seeking scholarships than in past years, partly due to a sluggish economy and higher costs for fuel and food. Bridgton, school officials point­ed out, has a high free/reduced lunch population — over 60% — which could result in higher scholarship requests if registra­tion fees rise.

Madura will develop a cost sheet as to charges for use of indoor facilities. He hinted that the time could soon come that SAD 61 would also charge for use of outdoor fields to cover maintenance for the “wear and tear” caused by programs such as travel soccer and lacrosse.

Other groups affected would include a church group, which holds its worship service in the high school cafeteria; Sebago Days, which holds the two-day festival on school grounds; com­munity theater; and the Bridgton School Age Child Care (SACC) program.

Lake Region Community Theatre director Janet Ver Planck of Casco said any charge would be difficult to absorb since the pro­gram already operates on a shoe­string. Community theatre tries to keep ticket prices “reasonable and affordable,” but if SAD 61 charges for use of the auditorium for prac­tice and show times, LRCT would need to seek out more sponsors to offset higher costs (a difficult task in the current economy) and possibly shy away from musicals, such as the recent presentation of Cinderella, which carry higher fees.

SACC would likely be forced to look for a new home or even be dissolved, if the program is charged a facility user’s fee, offi­cials said.

SACC is a fully-licensed child care that provides a before and after school program as well as an eight-week summer program for stu­dents at Stevens Brook Elementary as well as the surrounding com­munities. “The SACC program would not be able to absorb this kind of increase in overhead and still run an affordable program for our community,” SACC board of directors said. “Sixty-two percent of the students at Stevens Brook Elementary School are classified as economically disadvantaged based on the percentage of stu­dents that receive free and reduced lunch and many of our families are single parents. The SACC program needs community support to save the program, so please attend the referendum hearing.”

Sherrie Small, SAD 61’s finance coordinator, said a line will be included at the district bud­get meeting regarding Community Use of Facilities. The line will carry a $0 recommendation. Taxpayers can amend the line, and restore the $35,000.

Saved: High School Fine Arts Position, $37,000. Vote: Six directors voted against the cut of a fine arts teacher (dance), five voted to cut. Later in the meeting, a motion was made to reconsider the action. The motion failed, eight voting against, four for reconsideration.

LRHS Principal Ted Finn felt the “dance” piece of the Fine Arts could have been successfully integrated into the new Studio & Academies curriculum, thus cut­ting the dance instructor’s posi­tion. However, Finn noted he went to a conference where the mes­sage was to preserve, not cut, the Fine Arts. Carmel Collins, who presently teaches dance at LRHS, talked about the benefits of the program, including how a Dance Showcase, featuring LR students, brings the “creative and adaptive movements” to elementary schools each year. Directors declined to cut the position.

Under the proposed budget, Lake Region H.S. will operate with about $340,000 less money than in 2010-11.

Cuts to date include:

• Co-curricular reduced by $5,900;

• Extra-curricular reduced by $6,400;

• Guidance services reduced by $38,000;

• Administration expenses reduced by $40,000.

Positions eliminated include: .05 math; .05 science, .05 physical education, .05 library clerk, 1.0 in-school suspension monitor, 1.0 permanent substitute, 1.0 hallway monitor, 1.0 attendance clerk and 2.0 fine arts.

Saved: Technology, $75,000. Vote: A motion made by Sebago Director Richard Merritt to reduce the technology budget by $75,000 was rejected due to a lack of a sec­ond on his motion.

With an overall budget of over $900,000, Merritt questioned whether the district was getting “what we are paying for” when it comes to putting technology into the hands of students, especially considering the low test scores recorded over the past few years.

“There has been no notable out­come despite all the money we’re spending — the highest spending in the state. We spend 3% of our budget on technology, and we’re not showing any gains,” Merritt said.

Immediately, Director Laura Ordway responded that Merritt’s comment was “ridiculous” and she took “offense” at the notion that the tech department is not doing its job. “Josh (Sturk) is doing an amazing job,” Ordway said. While no test is given to determine the effect of technology on instruction, technology is a necessary tool in today’s world.

SAD 61 has certainly made sig­nificant changes and investments in the technology field over the past 10 years. Josh Sturk, director of Technology Services, gave a quick snapshot:

• Ten years ago, SAD 61 had 425 computers, buildings were not “connected” and word process­ing was the “primary instructional tool.” Today, the district has 1,805 computers with students in grades 6 to 12 each given a laptop to use during the school year. All build­ings are connected; video-confer­encing takes place; and the use of technology is fully embedded in instruction.

• Ten years ago, there were two technicians to service 425 com­puters. Today, the present budget calls for 3.5 technicians to oversee 1,805 computers. Nationally in the private sector, one technician is in charge of 114 computers. Here, the ratio is 1-to-516.

• The numbers are also high for tech integrators, who work with staff members — K-5, one integra­tor works with 92 teachers; grades 6 to 8, one works with 46 teachers; grades 9 to 12, one works with 65 teachers.

• Sturk noted that the money “he controls” in the tech budget has actually decreased over the past three years from $448,998 to $415,295 to $331,979. Other money ($297,000) is tied up in “hardware.”

Saved: High School PCB work, $125,000. Vote: 5-5, weighted vote resulted in directors rejecting to reduce the budget by $125,000 from the maintenance account and use project money to pay for PCB removal. Thus, money will be taken from the maintenance budget, this year and next, to offset costs of PCB removal.

Madura cautioned directors that dipping into the $500,000 contingency fund could pose a problem later on. Already, some unforeseen issues have surfaced and will need to be addressed. Madura said by next year, SAD 61 will have a good handle on where the project is and what money will be left.

Director Janice Barter reiter­ated that when PCBs were found in caulking used around windows and doorways in the construc­tion/renovation portion of the high school, federal environmental pro­tection officials forced SAD 61 to address other exterior openings (not included in the project) in the building over the next three years. Funding to address those areas, Barter said, should come from the general budget, not out of con­struction money, which are already earmarked.

Merritt argued that the project should be scaled back, if need be, to address the PCB issue rather than add the cost onto already over-burdened taxpayers.

How strongly residents feel about the cuts and non-cuts will likely be heard on Aug. 2 and at the polls on Aug. 9.

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