2012-02-07 / Front Page

RSU 1 receives ‘pleasant surprise’

BY BETH BROGAN Times Record Staff

BATH

Regional School Unit 1 administrators welcomed — cautiously — news Thursday that the district’s schools will receive approximately $500,000 more in state aid to education than anticipated.

Unlike neighboring Brunswick — which was initially slated to see an increase in state aid but now stands to lose $1.24 million — RSU 1’s state subsidy for 2012- 13 stands to increase by approximately $1.4 million, and not $900,000, according to preliminary figures released Thursday by the Maine Department of Education. An earlier state estimate, released in September 2011, reflected the anticipated $ 900,000 increase for RSU 1.

RSU 1 administrators are “pleasantly surprised” with the figure, Superintendent Patrick Manuel said Monday. They also are sympathetic to other local districts in more dire predicaments.

However, Manuel was quick to point out that prior to Thursday’s announcement, RSU 1 faced a potential $1 million budget gap resulting from reduced revenues, a reduction in state aid to education, the end of the federal jobs bill and increased costs of health insurance, fuel and heating oil, among other factors.

Approximately $750,000 is already allocated to pay for the new Woolwich Central School.

So while the new state subsidy number is “very positive news,” Manuel said the district still must consider cuts.

“I think it’s fair to say that, since we were projecting ... we would have to reduce around $1 million, now with an extra half-million in state aid, we’ll look at cutting a half-million,” he said.

On Jan. 25, the board made its first cut, voting to eliminate transportation for students who take advantage of a unique option that allows parents of RSU 1 students to choose which school in the district their children will attend. RSU 1 provides public education for Arrowsic, Bath, Phippsburg, West Bath and Woolwich.

RSU 1 board chairman Tim Harkins warned on Jan. 25 that the cut to transportation was “the tip of the iceberg.” Administrators said school reconfiguration or consolidation, a reduction in sports programming and subcontracting additional services also would be considered.

But with new state aid projections, the district seems to have been granted a reprieve — at least in part.

Still, Manuel noted that the figures released Thursday are preliminary, and he awaits a call from Deputy Education Commissioner Jim Rier “to find out how trusting we can be with these numbers because of what happened from fall to spring.”

Meanwhile, members of the RSU 1 Finance Committee met last week to begin reviewing more than 700 responses to a community survey in which the board asked residents of the five communities that make up RSU 1 to rank their priorities for the schools. The committee met last Thursday, he said, and will meet again this Thursday, hoping to make those responses available on the district’s website by Friday.

Manuel said he expects budget discussions to begin in earnest at the RSU 1 board of directors’ March 26 meeting.

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