Media Archive

Limited state funds could affect SAD 41 budget next year

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 164, No. 19, May 08, 2002

By Sarah MacIlroy
Staff Writer

MILO A nearly $6.5 million budget was approved by SAD 41 board members at their meeting last week, but another state shortfall could be causing more problems for local school districts.

Earlier this year, the Commissioner of Education informed school leaders that shortages in state funds could reduce the state commitment to the schools by $250 million. Work by legislators shifted the budget around and helped alleviate the problem, but just when news of the shortfall subsided, a lack of funds still appears to
be looming on the horizon.

Superintendent David Walker told the school board members that Commissioner J. Duke Albanese warned SADs that they could be looking at a loss of about $180 million in state revenue over the next two years. .

"Although the board adopted the budget, at this point it would mean personnel and program cuts (if we lost additional state funding)," Walker said in an interview last week.

Although the board would have to make the final decision. Walker said he feels it would not be right to go back to the taxpayers and ask to make up the shortfall.

"The towns in SAD 41 make a heroic effort," he said. "The board has worked very hard, and we've made a commitment to the communities."

At last week's meeting, the board approved the budget which reflects an increase of 1.3 percent, translating into about $50,000 more than last year spread across all the towns in the district. Walker said the budget increase is due mostly to increased health insurance costs.

The district's two insurance providers, Aetna and Anthem, both increased premiums for the coming year.

Anthem is reported to increased costs 16 percent, and Aetna still has not disclosed the degree of its rate hikes, although they have said it will not go higher than 25 percent.

Walker said the district has also taken pro-active measures to save on electricity and energy bills. He said he felt program or personnel cuts cuts would only have to be considered if the school is severely affected by a state budget shortfall.

A public hearing on the 2002-03 budget will be held on May 29 at 7 p.m. at Milo Elementary School.

Meanwhile, the district is going ahead with grants that will help them fund much needed repairs. If approved the grants would help provide a new roof at Brownville Elementary School and building repairs at Penquis Valley High School and Milo Elementary School.

Also at last week's meeting, Penquis Valley High School Principal John Robinson reported that the school's dropout rate was hovering somewhere between 15 and 17 percent,

"It's not good," said Robinson,"but it's honest. And those (numbers) are kids that we can't account for when they leave here."

After a student has accumulated six to 10 days of unexcused absences, they are considered truant. A certified letter is delivered to their address, informing parents or guardians of the absence.

Although attempts are frequently made to enroll potential dropouts in alternative education programs,often students simply leave the area without providing the school with any information, Robinson explained.

Students could be enrolled in educational programs elsewhere, but if the transcripts are not requested or a forwarding address is not known, the school officials have no way of determining the student's location and they must be considered a dropout, Walker explained.

During the meeting, the board also discussed the school district's support system for helping students make the transition from elementary school to junior high and high school.

"Sixth grade is a bridge," Walker said. "In seventh grade, we are expecting them to have a lot more organization and study skills."

Walker said the district is seeking to put on paper what sort of transition efforts should be included in sixth grade. While some board members favored making the transition speedier, others favored keeping it slow.

"Some sixth-graders are just not mature enough to deal with some of the issues the seventh-graders deal with," said Board Member Jeff Hamlin.

Walker agreed, saying he felt the children should not be rushed into the upper grades. For students, like those who have grown up at Lagrange have had only three teachers in their lifetime, he said, and that can make this middle school "a pretty big place."

No decisions were made on sixth grade transition procedures, but the board will continue a workshop on the plans.

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