Franklin Countys First News

RSU 73 board, teachers go outside the box on budget

The RSU 73 school board discusses the proposed 2017-18 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.

Superintendent Kenneth Healey listens as Board Chair Denise Rodzen addresses the audience Thursday evening.

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.

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21 Responses »

  1. They just don't get it. As the mill downsizes the costs to taxpayers keep going up. Spruce Mtn district spends more than most per child and cuts need to be made. Of course the teachers don't want to lose their jobs any more than the 200 folks at the mill that lost their jobs did. It is just time for downsizing all around. The children will be fine--the teachers that are left will just have to work a little harder.

  2. Its all about the education. Administration reduction first and if you are eliminating sports because it is not a main stream activity... get it all off the budget. Pay to play makes sense. Kids skilled or college prep that should be the priority.


  4. Nell, maybe you don't get it. I suggest you actually come to the board meetings and listen to what the townspeople and staff members have to say. RSU 73 staff is not the enemy here.

  5. i am wondering why the school system hasn't been "thinking out of the box" for years? They make the threat to eliminate sports and music then bring out the teachers, spouses and a few students to enhance a personal agenda. Their wishes and wants are not what is discussed on the streets, at the stores or in homes. Everyone talks about the budget request of 18 plus million being bloated with excessive wages, time off and other benefits. The fact is over 1/2 of the employees of the school system have a wage in excess of $50,000 and that figure doesn't include their benefits. The biggest line item in the budget is personnel. So do you start with music and sports? Of course not. If this budget passes your property tax bill will increase dramatically. Do you find anywhere in their discussions about that fact. Of course not. They want you not to be aware of that.

  6. Tom, of course personnel is the largest line in the budget. That is true of every business also. People cost money, that is reality. Unfortunately, we can't change reality.

  7. I hate to break it to you, but teachers aren't exactly raking in the dough. For the amount of work that is expected of them these days, there are a lot more attractive positions. Still, teachers continue to dedicate themselves because they love what they do. Teaching and Ed. Tech. positions should be the last thing to be cut. Cuts to supplies and high overhead of admin make more sense for small districts. People, teachers are not your enemies. Believe it or not, they are hard-working and do a lot for our communities.

  8. Why is it always "teachers" that become the enemy during the school budget process? Teachers are the ones on the front lines, interacting and dealing with students each and every day. Teachers are the reason why kids can love (or hate) school. Teachers foster love of learning in students. Teachers keep our kids safe during the day. Yet, we are so eager to say they need to be the first to be reduced. Why?

    There has to be other areas that can be reduced where the students, or event the safety of our students, won't be so directly impacted.

  9. If you want to improve your schools, make them wonderful, and get everyone to love and embrace them, make them free. As long as they cost people money, they will be resisted.

  10. First get rid of football and all its costs
    However it still looks like football is more important than special ed and the other educational subjects looking to be cut.

    Sell for a real price the extra ball field property and any other remaining property at the Livermore Fall High/Jr High complex.

    Move the bleachers over to the Spruce Mt High School complex.

    Change tenure to 9 years.

    Change bumping so the most qualified is kept for the subject area instead of just the longest employed.

    Reduce the total teacher and adminiatrations compensations by at least 20%, not the quantity of people employed. The current compensation amounts to a range of $1500-$2500 weekly for 52 weeks a year. Think about that especially considering that's calculating recieving that compensation during having the summer months off.

    Just stuff to ponder as Livermore Falls is considering get rid of the police department to cut cost and Jay is cutting services and even the small donation budget line items, to try to bring the budgets closer to the fiscal reality.

    So as more people loose their properties to taxes, as the police and fire Dept are cut to bring the budgets down it is no wonder why some folks look at the school as an out of control and uncontrollable money pit.

    Of course do it for the children.

    Do what for the children, teach them to spend other peoples hard earned money with no concept of fiscal responsible?
    They learn by watching behaviors, also.
    What do they see?

  11. Good well funded schools are probably the best thing we as citizens can spend our money on.

  12. I have been retired for 10 years but have remained involved in education as a substitute teacher as well as an advocate and tutor to young adults in the tri-county area. I would like to share the following:

    1. Teacher salaries make up the largest portion of the budget. As teacher longevity within a system is realized, salaries will be higher BUT the experience is most valuable when providing instruction. As these teachers retire, individuals whose salaries are substantially lower will provide a saving.

    2. Having been an instructor in Jay Elementary School, I was surprised when teaching in Florida that schools were assessed the number of classroom teachers based on student population. Additionally, teachers were placed where the student population grew; one year I was a fourth grade teacher in a continuous progress pod and the next assigned to fifth grade in the same pod. ( A pod is a set of 4 classrooms with a common area connecting them)

    3. Inclusion of special needs students was initiated my final two years. Classrooms by law must have fewer students with I.E.P. plans than students with no special programmimg. Eliminating programs benefitting students with special programming makes it more difficult to meet the needs of all students.

    4. Recess was eliminated and teacher directed activities to meet State Mandates regarding physical activity for students. This was in conjunction with PE programs. The number of student injuries during recess was greatly reduced.

    5. Music and Fine Arts coordinated programming with classroom teachers to enhance thematic units in Social Studies and Science. There is evidence that these areas promote cognitive development in children.

    6. The "Student" must be the center of the curriculum! When considering any and all decisions for a school system, the snowball effect on our students must be considered. Eliminating a program or position to meet budgetary needs is likely a loss of that position or program permanently.

    7. Ideally, the lower student to teacher ratio within a classroom allows teachers to better individualize instruction.

    8. I was NEVER on a negotiating team while a teacher in ME. Tax payers are carrying the financial burden. It was difficult for me to expect those enduring financial difficulties to be further burdened.

    My prayers to all as you go through this process!

  13. It's up to the school committee to provide us with a quality school system at reasonable costs. I don't mind paying, as long as the quality is there and the course offerings are there.
    I'll give you a few examples after sitting thru some of the meetings.
    Keep the sports choices as is. Most school offer even more of these activities that keep the kids involved, most parents enjoy it, and we are wasting our time discussing these cuts. Why should we even be thinking about cutting jv basketball at the middle school, tennis at the high school, etc. Start pay to pay at $50 per sport, with a $150 max, and move on.
    The administration needs to shrink, pure and simple. No assistants. One principal per building. If a principal is out, the super can fill in for the day. Pure and simple.
    We do not need three nurses in the district, pure and simple.
    Our two elementary schools can start sharing the following positions: art, physed, library aides. If this means pre K and K are covered by the classroom teacher so be it, pure and simple.
    We do not need computer teachers at the elementary school, pure and simple
    Our two elementary schools can share a guidance counselor, pure and simple.
    We don't need to keep up the ball fields at the old LFHS. Our numbers will never warrant it
    Offer more challenging courses at the high school. Call this our gifted and talented. Send any middle school students to the high school for classes they can handle if need be. Pure and simple.
    We can probably decrease one custodian in the district. Pure and simple.
    If people are eliminated, keep only the best. Do what is right for the students
    We can probably decrease a half a position in the superintendents office. Pure and simple
    As you can see, it is not that difficult. A little thinking outside the box and our budget drops and our course offerings increase. Pure and simple

  14. What makes this a hard process is the fact that unless you work in a school district, you don't have a real gauge on why things can and can not be cut. Unfortunately the people that vote to decide in most cases have zero knowledge of a working school system and its associated costs and why those costs are needed. Just as an example, someone said have the superintendent cover if a teacher is out sick. Are you nuts? Clearly you have zero knowledge of what a super does for his or her job. That is not the way it works. The way it works is this. A poor town produces poor educational oppurtunities and offerings and RSU 73 is becoming poorer and poorer every single day. THAT is plain and simple.

  15. No one said have the super cover for a teacher. Subs can do that.
    What I said is we can afford one principal per building so that we can put our monies into the classroom and course offerings.
    Should a principal be out for the day, the superintendent can cover if needed. I'd be willing to bet that most superintendents were once principals. Another option is to have qualified teachers fill in for the missing principal on a rotating basis. Many elementary schools do that.
    That is the thinking out of the box that must be done.


  17. I totally agree with Ray! I have not heard anything about transportation being looked at! They have buses leaving school that have very few students on them. Routes need to be looked at to find a more economical system. We have at least four people running the transportation and grounds system. We have buses sitting on the hill by the school for 40 to 45 minutes waiting to pick up kids at the middle and high school. Sitting there talking on their phone Is this time we are paying for. I know that in the past people would not have so much free time on their hands at the rate of pay they are getting! It is time to find someone that can make this department run both smoothly and economically! If changes are not made I will not be voting for this budget and I am sure I am not alone!

  18. Pure and simple has no basis in reality. Simple sounds great until you are running a budget for a school. There is nothing simple about it.

  19. Amanda I do get it and I have been to many meetings, both school board and selectman meetings. The school budget is way to big and needs to be trimmed. When the IP owned the mill and everyone was all in favor of billing the mill for everything it was just great to have all the teachers and bennies in the school system. It is not there any longer and the schools need to be slimmed down to what we all can afford. The days of charge the mill for everything are gone. Kids need to learn reading, writing and math, not the touchy, feely, everyone is equal crap that is going on in the schools today.

  20. I had 2 children go through the Jay school system. There is no way I could have afforded to "pay to play" ( as some have suggested) You have to remember Jay is no longer a 'rich town'. Many parents cannot afford to pay for their child to play sports. It would be unfair to the child, and pressure on the parent (s) In some ways it could even be called discrimination( for lack of income)... The problem I DO see in the sports dept. is the distance teams have to go tp play these sports. They are all over the state of Maine!
    I think Sue Smith did have some really great ideas.
    But, once again, they always look to cut jobs or programs...nothing..yet again..about town employees paying a portion of their insurance! It is a hard 'pill to swallow' when the elderly, and low income rsidents of Jay, have to struggle to pay insurance ( or still go without) to pay for meds, glasses, dental work etc, yet they are also paying for their neighbors full coverage of insurance. Save a teacher ( or more) save a program ( or more)...and have them pay insurance themselves!! ( pure and simple!)

  21. It's amusing how everyone says teachers dont make enough money because they put in long hours before and after school. They weren't forced to be teachers ! The average salary for a teacher is good pay for a year when you consider that a LOT of taxpayers dont make what they do. If you start living on what the rest of the working class does than perhaps you will understand why there is so much opposition to the school budget all over the state not just Jay...