WATERVILLE — The city’s top school official says the outlook is bleak so far for the next proposed school budget, with state education aid set to plunge by thousands of dollars, fixed costs increasing and the only possible cuts centering on staffing.

The proposed 2017-18 school budget is currently at $22.4 million, which would be a 6 percent increase, or $1.3 million, above this school year’s $21.1 million budget.

School Superintendent Eric Haley says there are a lot of unanswered questions about funding for the proposed budget, but he’s concerned about the unfolding scenario.

“This is about the worst I’ve ever seen it at this point,” Haley said Tuesday. “What we’re walking into is deep and dark.”

The Waterville Board of Education is scheduled to meet with the City Council at 7 p.m. Monday in the council chambers at The Center to present proposed expenditures for both the municipal and school sides of the 2017-18 budget.

The school board recently heard budget proposals from school principals and departments including alternative education, special education, technology and others; and now the big question is what the revenue will look like, according to Haley.

The estimated $1.3 million budget increase is driven mostly by insurance, increased wages and benefits, and higher costs for other items, he said.

Waterville school officials have received a preliminary state report that gives the schools an estimate of state revenue, but in it are 48 recommendations by Gov. Paul LePage for changes to the essential programs and services funding model, Haley said.

“There are some very huge swings, depending on what recommendations the state Legislature supports and what recommendations they don’t support,” he said.

Haley says that if all 48 recommendations are approved, Waterville schools would get about $100,000 less than they received last year.

“Educare would lose $195,195 based on … we’ve got right now,” he said. Educare is an early childhood education program located next to George J. Mitchell School.

Also, $500,000 was targeted from surplus last year for the budget, so school officials are looking at possibly being $600,000 behind with that $500,000 and the $100,000 that would be lost if all 48 recommendations are approved, according to Haley.

“I’m very worried about it,” he said of the budget. “Part of the message I want to impart is that Waterville public schools have been doing more with less for a long time and are still able to produce academic champions and drama champions and athletic champions. We’re at the point where we don’t have enough staff to continue to do what we’ve always done, and that’s my message. We’re at the breaking point and we need some help.”

Waterville City Manager Michael Roy said Tuesday that at this early stage, officials are looking at a proposed increase in the current $17.6 million municipal budget for 2017-18.

“Our expenses are up a little over $928,000, but $720,000 of that is in two categories: road improvements and capital improvements — equipment replacement,” Roy said. “The rest of the entire city budget is a little less than $200,000, which is 1.1 percent. If you exclude the huge increase in roads and capital improvements, our budget represents a modest increase over last year.”

The city had no capital improvements last year and severely cut the road repair budget, according to Roy.

Revenue is down $748,000 on the municipal side of the budget, and $500,000 of that is in one category — surplus, according to Roy.

“So our budget deficit, which is $1.6 million, is really dominated by three numbers: lack of surplus — $500,000 — and an increase in road improvements and capital improvements — $720,000,” Roy said. “The budget predicament we are in now is a direct result of decisions made last year. However, some of those decisions were necessary as a result of the budget crisis we had last year.”

Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro cautioned Tuesday about predicting too much about budgets right now. He said that, just by looking at the health insurance and benefits increases this year on the city side alone, he is sure there is a difficult scenario being looked at right now on the school side.

“However, I’ve learned not to come to too many conclusions this early in the process, but rather wait until we get into the discussions and watch as the state budget also unfolds,” Isgro said.

The proposed school budget did get a bit of a break this week when school officials, who had budgeted oil at $2.20 a gallon, locked in at $1.81 a gallon for oil, according to Haley.

Waterville schools employ 340 people and nearly 80 percent of the school budget is represented by salaries and benefits, so that is really the only place where budget cuts can be made, according to Haley.

Last year, when the schools were asked to cut the proposed budget and Haley recommended several teacher positions be cut, some people attending meetings recommended adult education be cut instead, he said.

“I wouldn’t cut adult education last year; adult education brings in more money than it spends and it’d be like cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

On Monday, school officials plan to present to councilors the proposal for expenditures, but revenue will not be known until the Legislature acts on the governor’s recommendations.

Haley said he attended a conference on Friday of Maine school superintendents, who talked about LePage’s 48 recommendations and what fluctuations will occur in funding if those recommendations pass in the Legislature. Superintendents are concerned, according to Haley.

“My interpretation, hearing from superintendents, was yes, they’re all in the same boat, depending on how those recommendations go,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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