Cup O’ Joe: Schools face budget crunch

13 years ago

Many school districts around the state have experienced difficulties in putting together a budget for the next school year, and local districts are no exception.
School officials in Danforth, SAD 29, SAD 70 and the newly formed RSU 50 (Southern Aroostook and Katahdin) have been diligently working to put together spending packages for the 2011-12 school year and almost every district is seeing an increase in the amount of local tax dollars that are needed in order to get funding from the state.
    For some districts, like SAD 70 for example, residents will actually have to raise more local tax dollars to obtain less state money than they received a year ago.
It’s no secret that the state is experiencing a serious budget crunch of its own. Major cuts to services for the needy have been widely reported, so it should come as no surprise that funds for education are also at a premium this year.
Putting together a budget to present to the public is perhaps, the single most difficult task a school board member is charged with. It sounds like a simple business procedure. If your revenues are down, cutting expenses is the only way to balance a budget.
But salaries make up roughly 85 percent of every school budget, so cutting expenses often means cutting people, which is something no board member wants to do, especially in the current stale economy.
Keeping everything status quo is simply not feasible for many districts, as the additional local costs would fall on the shoulders of taxpayers, many of whom are already struggling to pay their tax bills.
In SAD 29, the school board has held numerous workshops over the past few weeks as the group has struggled to come up with a palatable bottom line. The board made numerous cuts in its budget, resulting in the elimination of several teaching positions. And yet the bottom line still features an increase in spending over last year, which in turn will be passed on to taxpayers should the budget pass at the polls.
A public hearing for SAD 29’s budget will be held June 15 at 6 p.m. at Houlton Southside School. Residents will have an opportunity at that time to express their thoughts on the budget and ask questions of the school board before voting on the articles. A referendum vote will also take place on June 28.
Thursday evening in Hodgdon, a total of eight residents turned out for a public hearing on the SAD 70 budget and asked only a handful of questions. The SAD 70 budget features almost a 3 percent increase in tax dollars, due mainly to a reduction in the amount of state funding the district will receive.
For the Southern Aroostook and Katahdin school systems, a more complicated budget process is taking place. RSU 50 was scheduled to hold a special board meeting Tuesday to elect an interim superintendent as the merger between Southern Aroostook and Katahdin continues.
The RSU board was also slated to continue its budget talks at that time, as no budget had been acted on.
Many residents may feel that there is nothing they can do to change a school’s budget. But, failing to turn out to vote on budget is no excuse.
Joseph Cyr is a staff writer for the Houlton Pioneer Times. He can be reached at pioneertimes@nepublish.com or 532-2281.