The leaders of Waldo County’s two largest school units said this week that significant state subsidy cuts in the 2010-2011 school year mean tough choices will have to be made as each system crafts its budget for the coming year.

A spreadsheet released last week by the Maine Department of Education shows Belfast-based RSU 20 is slated to lose $1,507,344 next year (equal to 4.9 percent of this year’s total budget), while SAD 3 will see its state subsidy reduced by $843,991 (a drop of 4.4 percent from this year’s total budget).

According to a bulletin from the Maine School Management Association, the spreadsheet “represents what is being proposed in the governor’s supplemental budget, which is cutting GPA [General Purpose Aid] this year and next in order to help fill a $400-million-plus revenue shortfall.”

The two superintendents noted their districts have already had to absorb reductions in state funding during the current school year, and that the proposed reductions would be taken from the amounts of state aid originally allocated at the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year. When compared to the actual 2009-2010 budget figures, the proposed cuts in state subsidy represent a larger percentage.

“One and a half million dollars is a lot of money,” said RSU 20 Superintendent Bruce Mailloux.

Mailloux said the only good news he could see was that the cut was close to what RSU 20 officials had been anticipating and planning for — a reduction of approximately $1.4 million.

The district has been looking, and will continue to look, for potential savings in the budget, Mailloux said. He said he plans to bring more specific steps on how to address the shortfall before the board later in February.

Crafting the budget will be something of a balancing act, Mailloux explained, as the board tries to minimize the impact on two key groups: students and taxpayers.

“Early on, we made a decision that passing this on to taxpayers was not an option,” Mailloux said, noting that taxpayers and the municipalities they live in have less money coming in these days.

It is also important to ensure that students receive a good education is also important, Mailloux said, but with a number as large as $1.5 million it will be difficult to avoid also having some impact there.

“Unfortunately, you’re talking people and programs at that point,” said Mailloux, with regard to what cuts will have to be made to accommodate the reduction in state subsidy.

Joe Mattos, superintendent of the Unity-based SAD 3, offered similar thoughts on the matter.

“This will require systemic changes,” he said.

Mattos said he will present a status-quo budget to the board in March, which will show board members how much it would cost to maintain the same programs and staffing levels that are currently in place in the district. That budget will also show what amount local taxpayers would be required to contribute to sustain those things.

“Then I’ll say [to the board], ‘Okay, how do we deal with this? How much of an increase do you feel you can put on taxpayers? How much do you feel you can cut?'”

The board will then come up with some financial goals, and then Mattos will look at what cuts will need to be made to the budget to reach those goals.

Once Mattos comes up with some options, the board will have to pick those it finds most palatable. Like Mailloux, Mattos said the board of directors in SAD 3 will seek to maintain quality educational programming while keeping in mind the ability of taxpayers to fund such programming.

“We don’t believe you can just slide the costs along to the taxpayers,” said Mattos.