Media Archive

State budget cuts will hurt SAD 41

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 165, No. 3, January 15, 2003

By Jessica Lee
Staff Writer

MILO SAD 41 Superintendent David Walker warned the community last week that the state is planning another round of cuts in financial aid to schools.

But there's no way to budget for it, as the actual amount to be cut won't be evident until the end of the 2002-03 school year.

"I think it's dangerous policy," Walker told the school board Jan. 8. "I'd rather know what I'm dealing with."

State Department of Education Commissioner J. Duke Albanese sent out an informational letter to Maine districts outlining the second curtailment to school funding. The letter, dated Dec. 24, 2002, states that schools need to "share in the state's solution" to the $240 million state budget shortfall. The first curtailment last July reduced the general pupose aid to districts by $8 million, amounting to a cut of $25,000 to SAD 41.

Instead of cutting from the General Purpose Aid for education, which would have a "widespread detrimental effect," Albanese is proposing a cut of $1.7 million from debt service and another $4.5 million from reimbursement to local communities for the education and special services provided to state agency clients/state wards primarily foster children.

SAD 41 presently serves 10 state agency clients,according to Marilee Hurlburt,student services administrative assistant with the school district.

Walker said that the state is stopping reimbursements to districts in April and allowing the bills to build up statewide. Come June, the bills will be pooled and then pro-rated, meaning the districts will receive pennies on the dollar.

"On the one hand, I appreciate the effort not to cut the general purpose aid, but this leaves us with an unknown," the superintendent said.

Walker said he has already initiated a policy to curtail spending as much as possible, without affecting student services. A part-time maintenance employee and a half-time staff position in the administrative office helped offset the first round of cuts from the state.

As the economy has not shown signs of recovery, he said the district continues to keep spending to a minimum, and that is how he plans to prepare for this second round of cuts.

Unfortunately, he said, it is the most vulnerable students state agency clients who are being put in a terrible position.

"We are mandated to provide services and this is an unfair burden on local taxpayers. But I have a greater concern," said Walker. "These are probably the most vulnerable children in the state; many have been removed from their homes and have suffered greatly. What I'm afraid is that they're going to feel unwelcome

He said that the state has voiced concern over the growing cost of caring for the state agency clients, many of whom require expensive special services, such as speech pathology and counseling.

"This is poor public policy," Walker said.

Walker said he is already working with SAD 41 administrators to identify priorities for funding in the 2003-04 school year. He said the district already is looking at a $250,000 increase in fixed costs,

And, with declining enrollment, meaning less state aid, he said, there is inevitably going to be a loss of programs to students.

Administrators are due to submit budget requests to the superintendent by Friday, Feb. 14, which will be followed by two administrative budget work sessions. The first public look at the budget will be 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 26 during the SAD 41 board's scheduled work session.

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.