At past RSU 20 meetings and at his recent addresses to local select boards, Superintendent Bruce Mailloux has often referred to the current budget building season as “the cliff year.”

That’s because the 2012-13 school year is when several financial lifelines either expire or are significantly reduced.

In those explanations, Mailloux has stated the district will no longer have the benefit of financial sources like the federal jobs bill, which had previously allowed the district $690,000 to be used to preserve jobs for teachers, support staff and administrators. MaineCare reimbursements have also declined significantly, which means the district can no longer carry forward some of that money to help reduce the tax burden as it had in previous years. State subsidies have also been steadily eroding during the last several years, leaving the district no choice but to cut its budget to balance out all of those losses.

Mailloux delivered the “cliff year” message again Tuesday night.

“It’s been well-publicized, and we all knew it was coming,” he said.

At the regular meeting Tuesday night, March 27, directors got their first glance of the draft $33,884,058 budget, a package that carries a 3.04 percent increase over the current operating budget. The proposed figure is $1,116,313 higher than this year’s budget of $32,767,745.

The $33.9 million request includes the movement of all Stockton Springs Elementary School students to Searsport Elementary, and the relocation of third-graders at Drinkwater School in Northport. Those students would be sent to Captain Albert Stevens School in Belfast. The moves of the elementary school students would contribute to the lion’s share of an estimated $223,780 in savings, according to the draft budget, and were the subject of public comments that were offered to directors Tuesday night (See related story).

The special education instruction line shows a proposed $552,638 increase, and Mailloux said about $170,000 of that cost jump is due to the inclusion of bus aides under that line for the coming year. Additional educational technicians are being requested for next year, and Mailloux noted there are more youths with autism coming into the district in recent years.

“We have to take care of their needs,” he said.

The RSU 20 assessment for the district’s use of Waldo County Technical Center shows a request for $1,198,136, a $49,908 increase over 2011-12. That figure, Mailloux explained, is based on the number of students that RSU 20 is expected to send to WCTC in the coming school year.

Under the line referred to as “other instruction,” Mailloux said the figures for stipends have all been increased by 3 percent but cautioned the numbers are not cast in stone because staff contract negotiations are ongoing.

“It might be less, it might be more, but we had to put something in there,” he said.

Fees for game officials have also risen, Mailloux said. Overall, that budget line carries a request of $543,110, which is a $63,663 increase over the current year.

The line dedicated to student and staff support shows a proposal for $2,838,859 (up $317,971), a request Mailloux said includes a bigger allowance for purchasing library books and changing a four-fifths time guidance position to a full-time post.

Legal services and accounting fees also rose, as the proposal shows a $35,958 jump. Mailloux said that’s because the line was reduced significantly in the 2011-12 budget.

“Last year we cut it, and this year we’ll certainly be spending that money,” said Mailloux.

Mailoux said the chief purpose for the $58,939 hike in the school administration line — which includes district principals — is the rising cost of health insurance.

The proposed budget for transportation and buses grew by $180,112 and Mailloux said a major reason for that is the request to purchase one bus outright and lease a second bus. That move is an alternative to what Mailloux said the district had done in past years, which was buy two buses each year with the expectation that each bus would have an estimated 10-year life span.

For facilities and maintenance, the request is up $73,529. While contracted services were reduced by $65,000 last year and more work is completed in-house, Mailloux said the district can continue saving those funds this year. The increase, however, can be blamed on the projected $108,000 boost in heating fuel costs.

Another notable increase is in the food service budget. That line, which is included under the portion of the budget referred to as “all other expenditures,” showed a $90,000 figure — an increase of $85,000 over the 2011-12 funding level.

“For the last two years we’ve been able to carry over excess money from the food service program,” said Mailloux. “We can’t do it anymore.”

The debt service line shows a decrease of $77,625, and Mailloux said that is due to  a decline in the amount of interest the district pays on its debt as the loan principal is paid down.

Mailloux said at this point, the budget is still a work in progress.

“There’s a lot of things that have been discussed and there are a lot of things that are potentially on the table,” he said.

And as Finance Committee Chairman Gerry Reid noted, the board must also find a way to make up for a significant reduction in cash flow the district has seen in recent years.

“The other half of the problem is revenue,” said Reid. “What Bruce [Mailloux] just presented was the expenditure side of the budget.”

Reid said when the revenue side of the picture is considered, the district is facing an estimated $2.5 million budget shortfall.

“I just want to say that because 3 percent doesn’t look very scary, and it isn’t, but that’s just in the spending side,” Reid said.

Because some directors showed interest in discussing possible directions for specific portions of the 2012-13 budget, particularly on the topics of buildings and class sizes, special education and technology, Mailloux suggested using budget workshops as a way to figure those items out individually. According to the district website, those workshops were slated to take place April 2 at Searsport District High School as well as Tuesday, April 10, at Belfast Area High School at 7 p.m.

Reporter Tanya Mitchell can be reached at 338-3333 or tmitchell@villagesoup.com.