WINDSOR — A $26.5 million budget approved by the Regional School Unit 12 school board is nearly 3 percent higher than the current budget.

Because of decreases in state subsidy and other revenue, however, the amount of money to be raised through local taxes is expected to increase by 7.7 percent. The RSU consists of Alna, Chelsea, Palermo, Somerville, Westport Island, Whitefield, Windsor and Wiscasset.

The board approved the budget spending target after a long discussion Thursday at Windsor Elementary, during which parents, teachers and other community members criticized a draft budget that cut art, music and foreign language to save money and create more equity among the district’s schools.

The draft budget failed an initial vote at $26.4 million, but it passed 12-7 after Somerville school board member Chris Johnson suggested adding $100,000 to prevent some of those cuts. Johnson is also a Democratic state senator.

The proposed cuts included 1.5 foreign language teachers at Chelsea Elementary, Whitefield Elementary and Wiscasset Middle School, the only kindergarten-through-grade 8 schools to have foreign languages; elimination of general music classes for grades 6 to 8 at Chelsea Elementary and Wiscasset Middle School; and a reduction in the art teacher’s time at Whitefield Elementary, the only elementary school in RSU 12 where students get art twice a week.

Wiscasset High School varsity baseball coach Todd Souza, also Wiscasset’s parks and recreation director, said different schools have different offerings because of the communities’ priorities and past investments.

“Every community’s got something that’s more important to them, and we’re trying to create equity in places we don’t need it,” Souza said.

He was also critical of a proposal to reduce the athletic budget by instituting a pay-to-play system that has not been designed. Souza said he has seen how important sports are for children, and he would hate to see anyone be excluded because he or she can’t afford a participation fee.

Whitefield art teacher Rachel Hamlin said children need education in the arts because they stimulate academic growth as well, and she can’t imagine a quality art program with just one class a week.

“Instead of raising up how we are holistically raising our children, this RSU is pulling us down to the lowest common denominator,” she said.

It will be up to the administrative team to allocate the additional $100,000. Several board members said they want it used to protect and equalize art, music and foreign-language classes across the district, to whatever extent possible.

Whitefield board member Malinda Caron, on the other hand, said she’d rather try to boost achievement in core subjects, rather than eliminating a literacy coach, a half-time science coach and three intervention education technicians, as proposed.

Intervention education technicians help students who are not meeting standards, and one of the positions to be cut is at Whitefield Elementary, the only school in the district to receive an F on the school report cards released by the state last week.

Board Chairwoman Hilary Holm, who represents Whitefield, said the people in the audience advocating to keep programs need to go to the district budget meeting and convince other voters to support the budget in a referendum in June.

“We did have to balance the needs of advocates for education like yourselves, and people who are on fixed incomes,” she told the audience. “I believe that some of the board members are not even comfortable with this increase that we’re bringing. They would like to see it lower.”

Sandra Crehore, a board member from Westport Island who voted against the budget, said she would like to fund elementary-level foreign-language and other programs, but she doesn’t believe the higher budget will pass at referendum.

Although RSU 12’s enrollment is dropping by 1.2 percent, the amount the state says the district should spend is increasing 1.2 percent, or $239,304, said Jerry Nault, a Windsor board member and chairman of the Finance Committee. The district’s state subsidy is expected to be $36,717 lower than this year’s.

Of the $745,559 increase in spending, $285,056 is for contributions to the state pension fund. The state historically has paid those contributions, but the governor’s proposed biennial budget would shift the cost to local districts, while also offsetting part of the cost through additional subsidy. For RSU 12, the net cost to the towns is about $65,000.

The budget approved by the board includes cuts in several areas:

* At the central office, assistant superintendent Patricia Watts’ position would be cut to half time, one assistant special education director and one clerical worker would be eliminated, and the food services director’s hours would be reduced by one-quarter.

* Administrators want to find $89,000 in savings from athletics, perhaps through pay-to-play and ending transportation home from away games. That would save money on personnel costs because a bus driver would not need to be paid while waiting to drive the students home.

* The special education staff can be reduced by 2.5 teachers because of a smaller caseload.

* Wiscasset Primary School would lose one teacher and Wiscasset Middle School, a half-time teacher. Holm said district leaders are creating a policy to keep class sizes reasonable and equitable across the district.

* Other cuts include the technology integrator at Wiscasset High School, a social worker and a half-time library aide at Palermo Elementary.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]

 

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