2016-04-21 / Front Page

Board approves RSU 23 budget; it goes to voters next

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

OLD ORCHARD BEACH – Regional School Unit 23’s budget for next year has been formally OK’d by the district’s school board, and will need to be approved next at a regional budget meeting open to voting by any town resident.

The regional budget meeting will be held May 17 at Old Orchard Beach High School. After that, the budget will need to be approved again at a budget validation referendum vote held during the primary election on June 14.

The proposed $13.5 million school budget represents a nearly 5 percent increase from this year’s budget and would increase the mil rate by 30 cents per $1,000 of valuation – a nearly 2 percent increase.

The board approved a budget on April 14 that was $450,000 higher than what Superintendent Lloyd Crocker originally proposed, which is designated to help pay off some of the district’s $570,000 of debt that would have still remained with his budget. The RSU owes $256,000 in reconciliation costs associated with the withdrawals of Saco and Dayton from the school unit; $214,000 in summer insurance costs; and food services costs are projected to run a negative fund balance of $100,000 at the end of the year.

Crocker’s proposed budget, at $13.1 million, would have only represented a 3 percent increase,raising them at a rate 13 cents instead of 30 cents.

Crocker said the budget cuts staffing costs by $1.2 million, eliminating 18 positions, with many of the cuts being made at the administrative level.

“We really tried to do this as equitably as we could across the district,” Crocker said.

Among the positions proposed for elimination are the info-tech director, operations director, athletic director, a high school computer technology position, two custodians, two middle school teachers, two special education teachers and three education technicians. A guidance counselor, art teacher and secretary positions will also be eliminated at the high school. Crocker, who is retiring at the end of this school year, said the superintendent position will also be reduced to a halftime position, to be combined with a half-time high school principal position.

“An important point to make about the budget is, we have been carrying a hefty burden over the last few years in regard to personnel costs, with increases in the range of 10 percent per year, recognizing that we can’t carry those costs forward and remain sustainable,” Crocker said.

“Even though there are positions on the table (for elimination), my recommendation is to not be taking many of this staffing reduction off the table because we really do have to downsize staff in order to remain sustainable. We’re in dire straits and at the point where we can’t kick this can down the road. We have to tighten up.”

Crocker said the district will work hard to retain as many employees as possible as positions are shifted. At least five employees so far, he said, have confirmed acceptance of a $15,000 retirement incentive offer.

“We’ll shift people around,” Crocker said. “There are a couple of retirements and instead of replacing those positions, we’re absorbing them or combining them. We’re having some teachers do several content areas.”

Overall salary costs are projected to increase 8.7 percent from this year’s budget, and benefits will increase 17.77 percent. The increased costs in personnel salaries and benefits amount to a net increase of more than $1.1 million from this year’s amounts.

Crocker said class size could increase from 12 or 13 students to 17 or 18 students, which is still an acceptable size for learning.

“To be honest, we’ve had the luxury of having relatively small class sizes and that’s part of the reason we are overstaffed.”

Crocker said the change in class size won’t have much impact on student learning.

He said since becoming a regional school unit in 2009, the community has become increasingly more supportive of education budgets.

“If you go back years ago, when we first came into this district, it was always a battle with getting a budget passed,” Crocker said. “In recent years, we have a much more supportive council.”

Crocker said the regional budget meetings and subsequent referendum votes have worked to rally the community behind its schools.

“I do like the idea of taking the budget to the community and letting the community decide on whether this is a budget that they can support,” he said.

Crocker said even though residents can make amendments to the budget on the floor of the regional budget meeting, “very seldom do they actually get a majority.”

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