THE HIDDEN COSTS IN THE RSU 20 BUDGET
The RSU 20 budget woes ( one of only two in the state that has failed a second vote) includes a large increase in taxes and is a direct result of the costs of consolidation finally coming due.
It is unfortunate that it pits the quality of education as defined by massive layoffs, supplies and textbooks cut to the core, and programs cuts against huge tax increases. The decline in educational quality versus large tax increases is caused by two different forces: the actual cost of education and the loss of revenues from the state.
The initial cuts to the school budget go back months to the settling of the teacher and support staff contracts. These contracts were forced by consolidation to include a large increase in salaries for the former SAD 56 teachers because the law demanded that their salary steps be the same as SAD 34. This necessitated increases on average of $10,000 and some raises as high as $15,000 on the SAD 56 side. If the contract had been settled in one year this cost of well over a million dollars would have be spread over three years, instead unnecessary arduous negotiations took over three years and forced the cost of the increases to come due all at once in this year's budget.
The School Board demanding a budget with almost no increases so helped offset these expenses through an initial series of layoffs and cuts. These included over 4 positions at Belfast Area High School and also included Ed Techs used as librarians and a number of secretaries that are the literal heart of school offices. This was only the 1st step.
Now the loss of state revenues had to be addressed. These included a loss state subsidy for Frankfort who choose to leave RSU 20 for RSU 22. This will be at least $600,000, and various other schemes by Governor Lepage to withhold state monies from cites and schools. The current proposal is to offset these losses by making further drastic cuts that includes devastating a very successful Art Program.
Much of this conflict could have been eliminated for SAD 34 towns if the initial Withdrawal Effort had passed. The Withdrawal Committee clearly showed a potential savings of 1.3 million dollars, a figure agreed upon by three different superintendents both past and present. I find critics of the current effort like Chris Hyk rather uninformed as he demanded publicly that the Belfast City Council look into the possible savings, I guess the word of three different superintendents either wasn't good enough for him or he hasn't done any initial research.
The legislature overcame extreme resistance from Governor Lepage and our own State Senator Mike Thibodeau and restored some cuts demanded by the Governor which certainly has helped. It is no coincidence that RSU 20's huge deficit has arrived at the same time as the costs of consolidation are due and at the same time that parts of our State Government refuse to live up to its educational obligations. If consolidation had never taken place these woes would be much less and could have been easily handled.
My biggest concern is that every year we will continue to have this problem, maybe not to such an extreme but certainly it will continue until the tax payers of SAD 34 realize that the only solution for them is to get back to normal. Go back to an equivalent of SAD 34 were each district should be paying for their own students and towns like Stockton can decide for themselves how they choose to educate their students.
RSU 20 employee