Regional School Unit 12’s enrollment will be a lot smaller next year, and so will its budget.
The RSU 12 school board will vote Thursday on a $19.7 million budget for 2014-15. This year’s budget, the last one to include Wiscasset as part of the school district, is $26.4 million.
Wiscasset’s withdrawal from RSU 12, effective July 1, removes three expensive-to-run schools and about 560 students from the district.
The withdrawal made budget development a bit more complicated this year as officials tried to figure out how to provide for a school district that will have about 850 students in its four kindergartern-through-grade 8 schools next year and will pay tuition to send about 600 more to schools outside the district. RSU 12 needs fewer staff members in the central office but also will have to pay more tuition to other schools.
The result is a budget that requires $64,374 less in local taxes, or a 0.65 percent decrease. Because of the continuing phase-in of the new cost allocation method, however, some towns would experience a decrease in their school taxes, while others still will have an increase.
Alna, Chelsea, Westport Island and Whitefield would pay less to the RSU. Palermo, Somerville and Windsor would pay more.
The amount to be raised in local taxes is being offset by a $650,000 payment from Wiscasset that RSU 12 officials have chosen to apply toward the bottom line.
In accordance with the town’s withdrawal agreement, Wiscasset owes about $1.9 million to RSU 12 to settle employee contracts, repay what the RSU advanced for summer salaries and cover the town’s share of debt for projects such as the new Chelsea Elementary School. While $650,000 is being applied toward next year’s budget, much of the rest will go toward paying off the RSU’s deficit, which was nearly $1.2 million at the end of last fiscal year.
Although RSU 12 will benefit financially from Wiscasset’s withdrawal, there were new challenges in the budget for next year, Superintendent Howard Tuttle said.
The seven towns remaining in the RSU will receive collectively about $400,000 less in state subsidy next year, according to current projections, even though 22 additional students are living in those towns. Tuttle said they are talking with state officials to try to determine why their state aid would fall.
The draft budget sets aside $1.6 million for tuition payments, which is 56 percent more than this year’s tuition budget. RSU 12 now has to pay tuition for its students attending Wiscasset schools, and tuition rates are rising across the state, Tuttle said.
In addition, it will cost RSU 12 more to send special education students to a program in Wiscasset than it has cost the district to run that program.
Within the RSU’s schools, the budget adds a teacher at Windsor Elementary and reduces one at Whitefield Elementary because of changes in enrollment. The hours for art and music teachers are being cut back, but that will not affect instructional time for students, Tuttle said.
School board Chairwoman Hilary Holm, who represents Whitefield, said it was important to the board to retain a literacy coach and add to the student support staff. One student support person has been splitting time between Chelsea and Windsor, helping students with nonacademic problems; the budget would put a full-time person at each school.
“We’re continuing a lot of things that we’re seeing the beginnings of success with,” Holm said.
The central office staff is being pared back to complement the school district’s smaller size.
The full-time director of technology position and half-time assistant superintendent would be combined into one full-time position for a director of curriculum and technology. The board has approved hiring Wiscasset High School’s Deb Taylor for that job.
The director of operations and transportation would work for the RSU only two days a week, instead of five; and a human resources position and the adult education director position would be eliminated. Tuttle said the adult education director retired last year and was not replaced, with no negative consequences.
The food service director’s job would be reduced from 0.75-time to 0.2-time.
“We’ve put together a budget that will provide the best education possible for the students while being sensitive to the taxpayers,” Tuttle said.