SKOWHEGAN — The prospect of a drop in state subsidy for School Administrative District 54 has administrators bracing for budget cuts that could include leaving a school principal’s position vacant and eliminating three teaching jobs.

SAD 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry said the district stands to lose about $878,779 in state aid if the current trend in state funding continues. In the current budget, adopted last May, the district received about $18.7 million in general purpose aid to education. Most recently, Colbry said, he was told the district this coming year could receive about $17.8 million, which has sent the school board scrambling for places to cut spending.

The district got a break last year with an added $15 million overall in school subsidy from the state and legislation signed by the governor in April 2016, giving SAD 54 an extra $194,564 because of the hardship of losing value and taxes from Sappi Fine Paper. As a result, the budget’s effect on property taxes was minimized, Colbry said.

SAD 54 voters approved a total budget of $33,974,794 last year, an amount that was less than 1 percent below the previous year’s spending package. Looming this year is the prospect of a 9 percent increase in insurance rates — $500,000 — which would increase the overall budget by 1.35 percent to come in at $34,435,319, Colbry said.

However, there still is hope for more state aid to schools, he said.

“The state has not been totally fixed yet. We are still negotiating with teachers — that’s where we are at this moment with work to do on the budget,” Colbry said Friday.

So far, school board committees have found about $861,000 in cost reductions, including a 10 percent cut in supplies, books, equipment and travel and a restructuring of technology purchases away from one-time purchases to a multi-year approach, Colbry said. On the cutting board also is the elimination of a new bus purchase this year and cutting the maintenance budget by $46,000.

Colbry said at least two of the teaching positions would be at district elementary schools and that small class sizes there will make those cuts easier. One teaching position could be eliminated at the high school, he said.

The current principal at Margaret Chase Smith Elementary School is retiring, so the plan, Colbry said, is to combine the principal’s job there with that of North Elementary School, resulting in one principal for both schools.

“We’ve got less money. That’s why we made the reductions,” Colbry said, adding it’s a wait-and-see situation with state funding to close the gaps.

Gov. Paul LePage’s two-year spending plan for public schools drew criticism last month from dozens of parents, school board officials, teachers and others during a public hearing at the State House. LePage’s budget plan would spend about $1 billion of state money on public schools in the coming budget year — about $20 million, or 2 percent less, than the state is spending in the current budget.

“I believe,” Colbry said, “some of us believe that that’s going to change and the Legislature is going to increase that, which will help us in the budget process to make fewer additional cuts if we get more state aid.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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