RSU 73 board, teachers go outside the box on budget
JAY - The RSU 73 school board discussed a variety of modifications to the proposed 2017-18 budget Thursday evening, including additional cuts to administration lines, implementing pay-to-play athletics, and restoring teaching positions.
The administration was initially tasked by the school board to reduce the budget by $673,000, down to $18.1 million. Those cuts consisted of more than 10 positions, including the elimination of teaching positions that would be vacated via retirements, the loss of a literacy classroom, a $4,500 reduction in the Drama department stipend, removing a Spanish teaching position, and eliminating a Digital Arts instructor. Three sports that currently have relatively low participation: tennis, cross-country running and cross-country skiing, would also be eliminated. At the March 2 meeting, Superintendent Kenneth Healey said that an additional $125,000 would need to be cut to reach the targeted reduction, with those savings primarily generated through the proposed elimination of another Special Education and primary school teacher.
Thursday, Chair Denise Rodzen of Livermore Falls and other directors addressed the proposed cuts. Rodzen said that while she would have liked to have been surprised by the list of potential cuts provided to the board, she had not been. She said the proposed cuts appeared to represent a "direct hit" on the education of children. The cuts would impact opportunities for students, Rodzen said, and she asked that the administration come back to the board with "something that is not hurting our kids."
Director Michael Morrell of Jay proposed considering roughly $148,000 in possible cuts out of mostly administrative lines. These proposed cuts included $10,000 out of the school board line, $56,000 out of central office, $41,000 out of the Spruce Mountain Elementary School administration, $33,000 out of the Spruce Mountain Middle School administration and $7,795 out of instructional technology. Morrell also suggested using those savings to help fund the Special Education and primary school teaching positions that were proposed to be cut at the March 2 meeting.
Rodzen also asked the teaching staff for out-of-the-box ideas that could help the district. A number of staff and community members offered possibilities, ranging from cutting $15,000 associated with school accreditation to cutting the curricular coordinator position to a suggestion by digital arts teacher Ken Landry that his $13,500 supply line could be cut for the next year and still allow the program to function. A number of suggestions revolved around technology, specifically the use of Mac-brand laptops. The district is locked into a lease for the next fiscal year, but is planning to investigate the use of cheaper options moving forward. One possibility would be to maintain some Macbooks for coursework that required a more powerful computer.
"We have over-purchased technology for our kids," Healey said, adding that moving to a less expensive option after the district's lease ended made sense.
A number of speakers and some board members espoused pay-to-play athletics, potentially augmented by the district's athletic booster club or other private donations. Many families were used to paying to participate in Area Youth Sports programs, they argued, and paying a fee to participate in RSU 73 athletics could be made to work. Prior to the discussion, however, Healey noted that well over half of the district's students were on free or reduced-lunch, and that pay-to-play could prevent some from participating. Additionally, students who paid would expect to play, Healey said, which could impact more selective sports.
"Personally, I am not a proponent of pay-to-play," Healey said.
Resident Rick Merrill, who spoke in favor of additional cuts at the March 9 meeting, said he was encouraged by teachers and board member comments made at Thursday's meeting.
The district is hoping to garner $200,000 in carryover this fiscal year, significantly less than the $1.2 million in undesignated funds utilized to support the budget last year. Current revenue projections, presuming $673,000 in cuts and an $18.1 million budget, would have the three towns raising $11.9 million: $392,00 more than the current fiscal year. Revenue figures, however, are dependent upon the Governor's proposed budget and the State Legislature, as well as Jay's application for a sudden and severe disruption relating to the Verso mill.