STRONG — Sarah Strunk on Thursday told fellow school board members she would gladly pay higher school taxes to avoid cutting the district’s budget for the coming year.

That’s how Strunk, who represents Eustis on the school board, hoped to frame the upcoming debate about the School Administrative District 58 budget for 2011-12.

Her comments came after school members got their first glimpse of the proposed $10,114,522 budget, which is about a $258,000 increase from last year. They are expected to review the budget at future meetings before voting on a final version in May, with voters being asked to validate the school district’s budget in June.

Strunk said the board would have to make harmful cuts to some educational services to lower the budget enough to prevent increasing school taxes. She estimated that without cutting the budget, her school taxes would go up about $130.

“I would gladly pay an extra $130 to make sure that nothing changes for the students,” she said.

Strunk suggested that residents in the school district’s five towns — Avon, Eustis, Kingfield, Phillips and Strong — check with their own town office to find out how the proposed school budget would affect their own taxes.

Each community is affected differently because of valuations and other factors, but residents should get an idea of the school budget’s impact on them before the school board begins looking at large spending cuts, Strunk said.

During the brief initial budget review, district officials and board members alike noted that layoffs, program cuts or both were probably the only ways to trim enough from the budget to offset the spike.

They proposed making about $30,000 in cuts to general school supplies, as well as $5,000 in cuts to library services. They have yet to discuss some of the budget line items, including athletics, administration, transportation and debt service, which will be addressed at board meetings later this month.

Although other board members agreed with Strunk that they didn’t want to make budget cuts, several countered that many residents simply can’t afford to pay higher taxes.

Board member Mary Jane Thorndike, of Phillips, said the decisions to make cuts must consider the demand to help residents who live on fixed incomes or those who can’t find work. She added that any budget cuts will be made more difficult because of past cutbacks in the school district.

Because of budget cuts in recent years, district students today have fewer educational options than past generations, including when she was a student there, Thorndike said.

The increase in the proposed budget estimates $2.46 million in state aid, requiring $4.96 million in the local share. The state aid is down $163,827 from last year.

Earlier this year, the school board considered closing Stratton Elementary School. They voted the plan down at a meeting in late January after emotional pleas from members of that community who wanted to keep it open, according to Luci Milewski, business manager for the school district.

Closing down the elementary school would have saved between $400,000 and $500,000, depending on costs tied to moving the operation to the district’s three other elementary schools, Milewski said.

The school district is hosting community meetings to establish long-term goals to address declining revenues and enrollment in the school district, she said.

The 786 students enrolled in the district’s elementary schools and Mt. Abram High School is down 17 students from this point last year.

Last year, the school district’s budget passed without having to cut teaching positions and programs, which were saved by depleting the district’s surplus. The school district’s budget two year’s ago eliminated five teaching positions, two principals and cut back spending on supplies and athletics.

David Robinson — 861-9287

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