GARDINER — Despite reductions in state and federal funding, Regional School Unit 11’s new budget could decrease or keep taxes essentially flat for three of its four towns.

District administrators and the school board’s finance committee have prepared a budget for 2012-13 that is 2.2 percent lower than this year’s, primarily because of savings on health insurance and the elimination of seven teaching jobs.

“I’m sad that we’re at a place where we need to reduce staff, but we have a responsibility to do that, given the decline in enrollment,” Superintendent Pat Hopkins said. “But it’s difficult to do. We’re talking about jobs in a difficult economy.”

Some minor adjustments will be made before the proposed budget goes to the full school board. As it stands, the budget would keep taxes essentially flat for Pittston and West Gardiner, decrease them 3 percent for Gardiner and increase them 3.3 percent for Randolph.

Hopkins said Randolph’s valuation rose 4.8 percent, more than triple the increase in the other three towns, and that shifted the district’s local assessment toward Randolph.

The $21.4 million requested budget is $479,000 less than the school district is spending this year.

It projects savings of $297,000 from eliminating seven teaching positions: one at Helen Thompson School, one at Pittston Consolidated School, two at River View Community School, one at T.C. Hamlin School, an ed tech at Laura E. Richards School, a middle school special education teacher and a high school learning lab teacher.

The budget also anticipates that a 6 percent increase in health insurance, rather than the 11 percent previously forecast, will save the district $120,000. New figures show that premiums actually will rise only 4 percent, so that should provide another $48,000 in savings, Hopkins said.

“I believe the intent is to pass that right along to taxpayers,” she said.

Last year’s budget passed by only 14 votes, so the school board charged administrators with creating a budget that would not increase taxes.

The board reviewed the proposed budget at its bi-monthly meeting in March, and none of the members raised any major objections during the meeting.

West Gardiner representative Andy Grover, however, raised concerns about projections that first-grade classes at Helen Thompson could have 19 to 21 students.

“It seems like Helen Thompson is shouldering that burden year after year,” Grover said. “It seems like we’re cutting into that, and it just doesn’t seem fair, because we’re not going to have this public outcry over one grade at one school. I want to make sure we’re conscious about it.”

Helen Thompson Principal Lynn Izzi said nothing is final, and kindergarten registration numbers or support from ed techs could change the situation.

Business Director Andrea Disch said the school district is taking a state subsidy hit because of declining enrollment. At the end of February, the district had 2,124 students, which was 56 fewer students than last May.

In addition, Disch said, the state’s funding formula penalizes RSU 11 for having more teachers than the state education model prescribes for a district of its size.

Gardiner mother Paula Bourque said other parents in the district seem to think the staff cuts are reasonable, given RSU 11’s loss of students and funding.

“I’ve heard no outrage from people,” she told the board.

Hopkins said the school board should vote by mid-April to send the budget to a validation hearing. Residents will vote on it at referendum in June.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]

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