GARDINER — Cutting funding for sports teams, programs and once-essential positions is how Maine School Administrative District 11 officials are trying to reduce the increased expenses in a new budget proposal.

Superintendent Pat Hopkins File screenshot via Zoom

The school board’s finance committee started with a budget for next year that had an increase of 9.7%, or just over $2 million higher than last year. The panel then cut the increase down by nearly half. That amount, a 5.21% increase over last year’s budget, totaling $28.22 million, was unanimously approved Wednesday night at the regular MSAD 11 board business meeting. The district serves Gardiner, West Gardiner, Randolph and Pittston, and residents of those towns still need to vote on the budget in an election on Tuesday, June 14.

The proposed budget “includes not filling the vacant middle school physical education positions, though by not filling that, we still meet the national standard, we are looking at not having a freshman boys or girls basketball team, no junior varsity golf, no junior varsity boys ice hockey,” Superintendent Pat Hopkins said at a Tuesday finance committee meeting.

To achieve the 5.06% increase to the budget the board aimed for, Hopkins said the cuts also included eliminating three vacant education technician positions for the special education department; cutting in half the time for a world language teacher and a science teacher at Gardiner Regional Middle School; and eliminating a high school preparation program for eighth graders.

As for the sports programs at Gardiner Area High School, the total of the cuts is $14,919 — both the boys and girls freshman basketball programs cost $4,424, the JV boys ice hockey costs $4,672 and JV golf costs $1,379.

District Athletic Director Nate Stubbert said at the March 29 school board finance committee that when considering the sport cuts, officials looked at the number of student participants each sport has had in the past year or two.

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He said for the hockey program, since the district does not have a co-op team like other schools do, there aren’t enough students to fill out a boys JV team. He said JV golf is similar, but where it’s a boys and girls team, they can combine it to one team. Freshman girls basketball barely had a team this year, he said at the same meeting, with the assumption that freshman can play on the JV team.

Stubbert could not be reached for additional comment Thursday.

Other adjustments made to the budget involved the guidance counselor and social worker positions within the elementary schools. Since one counselor retired and the other position had been vacant, the district decided to turn it into a social worker position.

So now, each of the four elementary schools in MSAD 11 will have a social worker, with three funded by the budget and one funded with Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief money, but the guidance counselor program will no longer be available until students get to middle school. But the building administrators said “the need is there” for social workers, who each have around 40 students on their waiting list and had to bounce between schools.

A guidance counselor who is retiring this coming year said by eliminating the elementary guidance counselor, students will miss out on lessons about kindness, respect, truth-telling, conflict resolution and others learned at elementary age. Board Members Jim Lotheridge and Tony Viet said they were concerned about losing the position.

“Administration has talked about what the needs are and in what we discussed last time, there is great value in a guidance counselor, there are a lot of wonderful things they do on a daily basis,” Hopkins said Tuesday. But now, we are feeling the greater need is the social worker.”

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Additionally, the Gardiner Area High School assistant principals and director of operations had their work year reduced from 226 to 220 days.

The half-time assistant principal position at Helen Thompson elementary school was almost eliminated but added into the budget at the last moment at a cost of just over $43,000. Board Member Matthew Marshall suggested before the budget vote Wednesday to use carry-over funds for the position, but Business Manager Andrea Dish advised against it, saying not much funding is available.

Marshall was adamant about the budget not increasing more than 6%, because though he said he does not mind paying more in taxes, he didn’t want to assume the rest of the municipalities would want to, or be able to afford it as other costs rise.

One of the main factors driving the budget up is the special education budget, which is up nearly 13%, or by $540,974. The total cost of the special services are $4,876,095.

Elisha Morris, director of special services for the district, said at a finance meeting in March that despite the district’s robust special service programs, there are a few students who require additional services the district does not have the resources to provide, thus the students have to be taken to another school to accommodate their needs.

The district is also having a difficult time finding roles to fill within the special services department and have to outsource to other companies, which can be costly.

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Also contributing to the increase are: inflation, health insurance rates are up 8% and fuel prices.

Regular instruction will cost the district $11,963,551, an increase of $265,846, or 2.27%. Staff and student support is up 6.17% to $2,664,176, or a difference of $154,765.

If approved by the municipalities, the budget asks for a $615,373 increase for the local allocation. The communities would pay:

• Gardiner: $4,036,329 — an increase of 6.05%, or $230,132.

• Pittston: $2,392,969  — an increase of 6.41%, or $144,171.

• Randolph: $1,032,621 — an increase of 5.74%, or $56,032.

• West Gardiner: $3,403,051 — an increase of 5.75%, or $185,037.

Disch said the proposed amount would increase the property tax bill, for example, by about $139 for the owner of a $200,000 property.

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