State announces potential reductions in education subsidies; Franklin County’s superintendents respond

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AUGUSTA – The state Department of Education announced some of the possible repercussions of a governor-initiated curtailment in spending today, as further reductions in educational subsidies are expected for Franklin County.

The curtailment would temporarily reduce state spending by $80 million, in an effort to mitigate an expected budget shortfall estimated to be as high as $150 million. $27.8 million of the proposed curtailment would come out of the DOE, with $27 million of that representing cuts to the General Purpose Aid to Education.

These cuts to GPA are based on the Essential Programs and Services formula, which the DOE uses to determine how much money the state thinks a school district should spend to educate its students. DOE Commissioner Susan Gendron said, in a letter accompanying the information, that the EPS formula had not been altered.

“It is important to understand…” she said, “we have not changed the total Essential Programs and Services allocation for the individual unit or the statewide total. We have re-run with the exact same calculations in the funding law, only with $27,046,649 less in state share.” 

Information released this morning shows Franklin County school districts absorbing reductions ranging from mild to severe. Superintendents, all of whom have been aware of the possibility of cuts in the state subsidies, have notified their school boards and are preparing to face another potentially difficult budget season.

If the plan goes forward, utilizing the current 2008-2009 fiscal year budget numbers, MSAD 9 would receive $222,000 less in state subsidies. This would represent a 1.5 percent reduction in state money, from what the district actually received this year.

“We were fearful it would be much more,” MSAD 9 Superintendent Michael Cormier said today.

Cormier said that the MSAD 9 administration would focus “programming for children,” as a top concern as the district adjusted to the proposed reductions. In the short term, a budgetary freeze has been in place for a week, as well as a hiring freeze. 

Cormier said that he intended to meet with district personnel following the Thanksgiving break to discuss the situation.

“We’ll be meeting after the break,” he said, “to get ideas about what this might look like.”

Cormier also noted other potential reductions may be on the horizon, as Governor John Baldacci has said that a revised budget will be released next month. Cormier had previously said that the 2008-2009 school budget had been one of the most difficult he had ever helped developed.

“That might have been an understatement,” he said, “it’s going to get more difficult. This isn’t just a problem in Maine. This is happening nationally.”

MSAD 58 Superintendent Quenten Clark agreed that the proposed reduction may only be the beginning as the state continues to struggle financially. His district would lose 2 percent of its state funding, or slightly more than $68,000.

“This is $80 million in cuts and we’ve got a $150 million shortfall,” Clark noted. “I’m not sure it’s the last word on this thing. We’ll continue to be very conservative, and hang on to as much money as possible so we don’t get stuck later.”

The proposed reduction is almost entirely offset by energy savings the district will make this year, Clark said. Oil prices have tumbled recently, and the district is beginning to switch over to more cost-effective wood pellet boilers to save even more money.

“This is doable,” he said of the cuts, “but I expect that there will be more to come.”

The Jay School Department, on the other hand, potentially faces far more of a hardship from the proposal. As the EPS formula is heavily based on local valuation numbers, the town of Jay could lose as much as 10.2 percent of its state funding, representing $197,000 in state subsidy.

“It’s a significant amount of money for any school district,” Superintendent Robert Wall said. “We were taken back.”

Wall noted that his department would concentrate on “impacting students and staff as little as possible.” However, he also said “that might not be possible.”

“It’s going to be very difficult to maintain the services people want,” he said.

The Jay School Department will be continuing to scrutinize the budget and reduce discretionary costs whenever possible.

Baldacci has stated that he intends to present a revised budget, which will account for the remaining shortfall, by Dec. 15. Another round of cuts is expected in the two-year budget starting July 1, 2009.


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