The administration and Board of Directors of RSU 20 are deeply involved in the work of developing a budget for school year 2012-2013. The work is being done in a particularly difficult environment, as we are experiencing declining enrollments, declining revenues, and, like you, increased costs. This is a scenario that indicates something has got to give.

Student population in RSU 20 has gone from 2,880 in 2001-2002 to 2,519 in 2011-2012. That is a decline of 12.5 percent. The Maine Department of Education projects the statewide Resident Pupil Count will drop by 10.36 percent between Oct. 1, 2005 and Oct. 1, 2014. While the overall number of school-age students is on the decline, school districts are also losing students to homeschooling, private and religious schools. The state’s Essential Programs and Services funding formula is tied directly to our number of students, and less students means less state support for our school system.

Declining revenues beyond state funding is also a major issue, as changes in MaineCare and a reduction of funds in federal programs has led to a significant loss of revenue — $1.3 million per year. These are revenues that were made available through a billing process for services like special education, occupational and physical therapy, site-based rehabilitation services, and day treatment programs. Students during the last 15 years have received a tremendous amount of assistance through these programs; and, while we are trying to work through a very complicated, ever-changing billing process for some reimbursement, we may have to seek other alternatives in the future. In addition to the $1.3 million, we are facing the loss of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds totaling $670,000, making our revenue shortfall $2 million before we even look at increased costs.

How do we arrive at a “reasonable budget” in this trying time? We have to look at what is reasonable. Your Board of Directors and school administrators have looked, and are continuing to look, at many ways to reduce our expenditures and also maintain the quality of programming that people desire. We have looked at reducing supplies, professional development, travel, extra-curricular programs and positions and building consolidations. Any and all of these choices are difficult but the reality is that something has to give. Taxes will increase — the question is how much, and what will we have to give to keep the amount “reasonable.” In round numbers, a million dollars represents 19-20 teaching positions or roughly $48 per $100,000 of property valuations (this will vary from town to town). The reduction of 20 teachers would only meet half the shortfall. What would our region look like with 20 less teachers? It would decimate the progress we have made and services we currently offer. These are difficult decisions.

There are those that feel consolidation of MSAD 34 and MSAD 56 is the issue, and we need to return to “the way it was.” I would like to return to $1.09 a gallon for gas and 75 cents a gallon for heating oil too, but I don’t see that happening. I would remind folks that all towns would share in the cost of equalizing salaries, but all towns are also sharing in the $1 million loss (the former MSAD 34’s share of the $1.3 million) of MaineCare funds. The sharing of increased costs goes both ways. Utilizing the combined facilities of MSADs 34 and 56 allows us to become more efficient and reduce expenditures by up to $2.3 million per year. I understand the opposition very well, but I also understand the economics and potential impact on the quality of our schools.

Bruce Mailloux is the superintendent of RSU 20.