MSAD 9 prepares for state aid reductions

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FARMINGTON – MSAD 9 is proceeding with a variety of cost-cutting moves, the district’s superintendent said Tuesday evening, following last week’s announcement by the state that subsidies to all school districts would be reduced.

The reassessment of $27 million in funds to General Purpose Aid to Education is part of a larger, $80 million curtailment order issued by Governor John Baldacci. That order, issued last week, temporarily reduced state spending in an effort to mitigate an expected budget shortfall estimated to be as high as $150 million.

That $27 million reduction calculates out to a 2.75 percent reduction in state money for MSAD 9, representing $220,000.

Superintendent Michael Cormier outlined a series of steps the district was implementing to cover that missing $220,000. He noted that he had feared a 5 or even 6 percent reduction, which would have represented more than $600,000 in lost funding.

A budgetary and staffing freeze had already been in place for a couple of weeks, as MSAD 9 and other districts had been made aware by the Department of Education that cuts were likely. The staffing freeze means that extremely serious consideration would be required before an open position was filled. The spending freeze means that supplies will not be purchased unless they relate to the health and safety of students, are being used to keep an existing piece of equipment operational or fall under the category of “necessary consumables.”

The district’s sports program is also looking at reductions. MSAD 9 is cutting down to two referees, from the usual three, and has canceled some scrimmage bus trips.

Some other decisions include the cancellation of some workshops, and a reduction in facility temperature from 70 degrees to 68 degrees. That reduction is estimated to save $10,000 per year.  Cormier also said he was looking into balances remaining in contingency funds.

These changes, along with $15,000 in reduced fuel prices, are believed to be enough to cover the $220,000.

“I think with these things we’ve put in place,” Cormier said, “we are OK. If it were $600,000, we’d be in a different place.”

Cormier will be meeting with all staff members at a series of informational meetings after Thanksgiving.

Other funds may also soon be available. If voters approve the Mallett School building project at the Jan. 22 referendum, the district will recoup $180,000 in architectural expenditures. Cormier estimated that some $300,000 would be spent throughout the planning process for the Mt. Blue High School building project, with those funds being refunded if that project was approved at another referendum, possibly sometime in the spring of 2009.

School board directors agreed to schedule the first straw poll on the high school project on Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. in the high school’s auditorium.

Cormier noted that the issue of reduced state funding would likely to continue to be a challenging one for the district. His priorities, he said, were to retain programs for children, maintain the same level of service and try and keep staff employed whenever possible.

“This is not just a one-time issue,” he said. “This is not going to go away this spring. You’re looking at a dramatic impact on next year’s budget.”

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