School board members in RSU 20 approved an initial round of budget cuts for the coming school year March 9, but held off on making any decision about whether or not to close one or more of the district’s elementary schools.

The budget cuts, which had been presented by Superintendent Bruce Mailloux at an earlier budget workshop, were drafted by members of the district’s administrative team and ranked in order of their potential impact on student learning.

The cuts approved Tuesday night totaled $515,200, slightly more than one-third of the $1.4 million worth of proposed cuts that were presented at the earlier budget workshop. The $1.4 million figure, however, included approximately $400,000 in savings as the result of an elementary school’s being closed — an item that board members have discussed, but not approved.

The budget cuts presented to the board were broken down into three categories — those that would impact students, those that would have a definite impact on students, and those that would have a significant impact on students. A table from Mailloux labeled the last category cuts the district would “prefer to avoid.”

The 14 board members present at the March 9 meeting unanimously approved the eight items in the category labeled “impact,” for a total of $337,000 in savings. Those items included:

• $50,000 — reduced field trip funding

• $16,000 — replacing a retiring administrative assistant with a secretary

• $41,000 — eliminating one maintenance position

• $30,000 — reducing supply lines across the district

• $50,000 — eliminating an alternative education teacher at Troy Howard Middle School

• $50,000 — combining two special education programs, allowing for one teaching position to be eliminated

• $50,000 — reduced funding for staff professional development

• $50,000 — reduced amount for tuition reimbursement

Turning their attention to the “definite impact” category, board members unanimously approved half of the recommendations in that category, for a total savings of $178,200. The savings in that category are as follows:

• $45,000 — eliminating one bus mechanic’s position

• $20,000 — eliminating the district’s PET scheduler

• $25,000 — eliminating a half-time art position at Searsport District Middle School

• $50,000 — eliminating an unspecified teaching position at Belfast Area High School

• $38,200 — eliminating a special education ed tech’s position

Board members, however, held off on approving five other suggestions that had been presented by Mailloux.

A proposed reorganization of classes at the Nickerson School in Swanville, slated to save $100,000, was not included because directors wanted to see if there were similar opportunities at other schools. Mailloux said other possibilities were being looked at.

A proposed $100,000 reduction in extracurricular and co-curricular activities at the district’s two high schools and two middle schools was not included because directors wanted more information on per-pupil expenditures, rather than just an overall financial figure for each school.

A proposal to save $150,000 by not purchasing any new school buses next year was not included because directors were concerned about the loss of reimbursement from the state. Mailloux had explained that the year after purchasing a new bus, the district is reimbursed 50 percent of that price. Directors also expressed concern about not letting the district’s fleet of 34 school buses become too old.

A proposed $25,000 savings from having the district’s two high school’s share a French teacher was not included, after Mailloux advised there were too many contractual issues to make that a reality. The board also heard from a number of people in the audience Tuesday night who thought the proposal was a bad idea, and that it would have been particularly detrimental to Searsport District High School students.

Finally, the board took no action on an item suggesting the closing of one of the district’s elementary schools. Mailloux had previously recommended that Stockton Springs Elementary School be closed, for a savings of $395,709. Other schools considered were Frankfort Elementary School and the Kermit Nickerson Elementary School in Swanville.

Tuesday night, Mailloux presented figures showing how much would be saved by closing either the Nickerson or Frankfort school. Closing Nickerson would save RSU 20 approximately $387,000, while closing Frankfort Elementary would save about $234,232.

Although SSES was the school that Mailloux had recommended for closure, there had been some discussion at the earlier budget workshop on perhaps closing Frankfort Elementary instead, in part because there has been some discussion in Frankfort about leaving the district. Some board members thought it might make sense to close that school now rather than continue to spend money on it.

At the earlier budget workshop, Mailloux had said he had spoken with town officials in Frankfort who told him the town was still exploring the possibility of leaving the district. When pressed for an answer by board members, Mailloux said he thought there was a fair chance Frankfort might succeed in its attempt to secede.

That position was challenged Tuesday night by several audience members, including SDHS student Zach Parker and former SAD 56 board member Gabe Baker. Both Parker and Baker are residents of Frankfort.

Parker, who had previously voiced support for his town’s leaving RSU 20, said he now regrets that and said he feels he was given bad information at the time. The other option being considered would be for Frankfort to become a part of the Hampden school system, but Parker said many in Frankfort do not want to leave RSU 20.

“This RSU has much more to offer than Hampden does,” he said.

Baker said he had talked with selectmen in Frankfort, and that they had given him a different impression of their conversation with the school superintendent than Mailloux had.

“I guarantee you that the implication was that they were still pursuing that option [of leaving RSU 20],” said Mailloux, in reply to Baker. While Mailloux acknowledged selectmen had said there was no provision for them to legally leave RSU 20, he said the state law covering that matter has now changed, and Mailloux reiterated that selectmen did not say they weren’t still considering leaving RSU 20.

In 2009, at their annual town meeting, a majority of Frankfort voters approved raising $7,500 for legal fees to explore the possibility of withdrawing from what was then SAD 56.

One of the people leading the charge at that time was Ken Lindell, who until recently had served on the RSU board as Frankfort’s lone representative. When another board member inquired if Lindell could be invited to attend future board meetings, Mailloux explained he had just learned in recent days that Lindell had resigned from the school board.

Lindell notified town officials of his decision in early February, Mailloux said, but town officials did not notify the district until early March. Mailloux said he had been told that Lindell was moving out of Frankfort to another town.

Baker noted the decision to leave RSU 20 could not happen without a town-wide referendum, and that selectmen alone could not make the decision. He encouraged board members to consider the feelings of all Frankfort residents, rather than what he said may just be a vocal minority.

“Don’t penalize the people of Frankfort now for something that you don’t even know they want,” said Baker.

Returning to the proposed general budget cuts, the board took no action on the proposed “significant impact” cuts, which would have saved a total of $137,500 — $61,000 by eliminating 1.6 full-time-equivalent elementary library ed tech positions, and $76,400 by eliminating 2.0 full-time-equivalent secondary library ed tech positions. Several audience members spoke out against those particular proposals Tuesday night, and some board members indicated those comments had resonated with them.