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School districts face cutback in state funds
AREA — Local school districts are bracing for the fallout from state spending cuts resulting from a $35.5 million revenue shortfall.
SAD 17 is facing $215,946 in cuts, RSU 16 $113,228 and RSU 10 $157,432.
On December 27, Governor Paul LePage signed an executive order for a budget curtailment to deal with the revenue loss.
According to the Maine Department of Education, $12.58 million of the cuts will come from its general purpose aid to local school districts.
The drawbacks will be outlined in a supplemental budget the governor's office is set to release Friday, according to State Representative Tom Winsor (R-Norway), a member of the Legislature's Finance and Appropriations Committee.
The committee met last Friday to review the curtailment plan.
Winsor says no one wants to make spending cuts, but without a revenue increase, the cuts will come from the state's most expensive programs.
"The bulk of the money is in education and human services," Winsor says. "You could zero-fund the state police, but that's not going to raise enough money to meet the shortfall."
The reduction in GPA may not be set in stone, Winsor says – the appropriations committee might be able to find a way to lighten the blow if it can find other areas to make cuts, but it won't know for certain until it can examine the supplemental budget further.
Absent a significant revenue increase, however, the state will be required to curb its spending.
"When the money isn't coming in to the degree we expect, then there are choices that aren't necessarily pleasant," Winsor warns.
The $215,946 reduction to SAD 17's aid may leave the district scraping the bottom of its coffers.
According to District Business Manager Cathy Fanjoy-Coffey, the district budgeted $100,000 to offset a possible curtailment and the remaining funds will come from the district's contingency funds.
The aid shortfall, however, means the district's carryover into next year's budget will be reduced by $215,946.
That will create a gap of around $500,000 in the 2013-2014 budget, Fanjoy-Coffey says.
Despite the consequences, using the carryover is the district's only realistic solution, Fanjoy-Cofffey says.
"We've already frozen the budget, we've eliminated so many positions in the past few years. We really could no see any way we could make any adjustments this year so the superintendent has decided to use the carryover and that reserve to address it."
According to a letter from Superintendent Rick Colpitts to the SAD 17 Board of Directors, the district's budget committee and administration are considering recommendations to deal with the gap.
Michael Wilhelm, RSU 16 superintendent, says the district plans to freeze all discretionary spending to deal with a $113,228 cut in GPA.
The spending freeze will affect items like books, supplies and professional development that were budgeted, but haven't been purchased yet.
"We put together a pretty tight budget," Wilhelm says. "The only reason we have money in those accounts is that people haven't gotten around to buying what they intended to buy."
RSU 10 Superintendent Tom Ward says the district implemented a spending freeze in November in an effort to build carryover for next year.
But the district's $157,432 share of the curtailment will "wipe out" those funds, Ward says.
Field trips, hiring and overtime are being suspended as part of the spending freeze, Ward says, but he predicts the curtailment could have been much worse.
"This could have been twice as much," Ward says.