WINSLOW — The Winslow school board approved more than $200,000 worth of cuts to the proposed budget in a 6-1 vote at its meeting Monday evening.

While the board said it didn’t like making large cuts, it accepted the administrator’s recommendations due to pressure from the Town Council and a lack of information about state revenue.

All of the cuts were approved except for cuts to junior high school textbooks, which will cost about $17,000.

Winslow is part of Alternative Organization Structure 92, along with Waterville and Vassalboro, but it has its own budget.

The proposed budget is $14.68 million, an increase of 2.1 percent from last year’s. The largest increase is in special education, which is budgeted for $259,445 more than last year. The 13 percent hike is to due to an increased population and increased need, superintendent Eric Haley said. The preliminary proposed budget was $14.90 million.

Other increases are due to annual hikes in oil costs and scheduled salary raises, Haley said.

With state revenues potentially down by $423,494, the administration is looking at more ways to cut expenses.

The reduction in costs include hiring teachers who are paid less to fill retirees’ spots and those on leave of absences, not filling coaching positions, delaying some maintenance work, cutting Camp Kieve and cutting textbooks.

On the revenue side, Gov. Paul LePage has recommended 48 changes to the funding formula for essential programs and services, which would cut out over 6 percent of Winslow’s state revenue.

As the school district waits for the Legislature to make changes to the budget and possibly include more funding for education, Haley has asked the Town Council to delay approving its own budget.

“I know we have timelines. I know we have town charters. But these are extenuating circumstances,” Haley said at the meeting. “The law says they have to give us our final appropriation total by March 15,” but the legislature hasn’t.

While he understands it may not be possible to hold off, he would like the council to at least look into the possibility.

Haley said he’s asking all three communities in the district to “slow the process down.”

The Town Council has taken the first vote on the budget, approving it and flat-funding the school with last year’s budget. Haley said if the school gets flat-funded, it will “short-change the kids.” Flat-funding would mean another potential $694,000 of cuts.

“You don’t get those kinds of numbers unless you go to personnel,” he said. Teachers cost the most, he said, and must be cut by seniority. If Haley has to cut over $600,000, that would equal 12 teachers, not including the unemployment the school would also have to pay.

That’s one teacher per grade level, he said.

To look at it another way, the whole sports department costs about $580,000.

“And the question becomes: What’s truly our most precious mission, to provide sports or to provide an education?” Haley said, adding that he “knows sports is an education.”

While more cuts wouldn’t necessarily be just on teachers or the sports department, they would definitely include personnel.

“When you look at that budget and you look at that $694,000, there’s nowhere to go,” said Paula Pooler, the finance director for AOS 92.

Haley said this proposed budget is already trying to balance what the schools need with the community’s ability to pay, but “we’re not asking for the Cadillac, we’re asking for basic school programming.”

“Right now, this is like stepping into a closet, turning off the light and saying, ‘Let’s read what’s on the wall,'” Haley said. “… To me, leadership would be seeing the unique situation and finding a unique way to deal with it, not just doing same-old, same-old.”

According to Haley, Town Manager Michael Heavener said the Town Council intends to take the second vote on the budget at its next meeting on May 8.

Haley said he still plans to push back on the flat-funding.

“The population that is coming through the school doors every day is poorer and poorer and poorer,” he said. “… They don’t and can’t come before the Town Council, and to dismiss their needs … is unacceptable.”

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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