The end result of two hours of discussion by the Eastport School Committee at a meeting on June 24 was to cut $36,000 from its budget of the $100,000 requested by the city budget committee. The budget committee was acting on the request of the city council, which had held a June 17 budget workshop and had recommended that the local tax rate of 23 mills not be increased. School board members Meg McGarvey, David Gholson and Chair Will Bradbury voted in favor of the cuts, with the recommendation to the council that the budget committee find an additional $64,000 in the municipal budget if the goal is to keep the city's mill rate flat. Board members Richard Clark and Merilyn Mills voted against the motion.
City Council Chair Mary Repole was in attendance and told the school committee, "The fact is, the general consensus of the council is that we need to cut more. I asked a lot of questions [at the June 17 workshop], and they will be asked again. I am totally committed to educating our students." However, she added that there was a significant sentiment within the city that taxes needed to be kept flat.
Without any additional changes, the proposed fiscal year 2014B2015 total City of Eastport budget would be $4,629,148, just about $70,000 more than last year's budget. The school committee's May 29 budget was for a total of $2,520,452, $169,955 more than the previous year, and of which $1,409,070 would be raised by local taxation. To inject a little competitive spirit to the process, Bradbury noted that the Lubec school board has recommended asking for local taxation to support $1.6 million for the school budget at the town's referendum vote later this summer.
AOS 77 Superintendent Jim Underwood explained that Lubec no longer has a high school and must pay to have its students sent to other schools. Lubec will be paying about $450,000 for that service, or almost a third of its budget. Shead expects to have 72 tuition students, each of which brings in $8,165. The total school population is expected to be 193, with 80 at the elementary and 113 at the high school. However, Shead Principal Paul Theriault cautioned that budget projections are usually conservative and cannot take into account upper classmen transfers and other bumps up in student enrollment.
Two principals, two buildings questioned
At the start of the meeting Underwood presented a list of possible cuts that totaled $97,000. "There are priority decisions to make," he told the committee. The list of cuts included: elimination of the new industrial arts program, $45,567; reduction of the arts program contract with the Eastport Arts Center, $8,500; elimination of an ed tech III at the elementary school, $24,054; elimination of the Jobs for Maine's Graduates position, $12,000; elimination of the proposed part‑time cook, $5,709; a reduction in the number of high school windows to be replaced, $12,000; high school library costs, $382. While the total number of cuts came to just over $108,000, Underwood noted that the actual number was $97,000 because some salary figures had been adjusted after the list was compiled.
The cuts eventually decided on were for the ed tech III position, currently unfilled, and the windows, for the total of $36,000. All other cuts were deemed too important to educational programming, with the new industrial arts program referred to as a potential big draw for tuition students, a source of revenue for the school system.
"I have a problem with the proposal," said Mills. "Except for the windows, it all affects students. Our primary focus should be to educate. Are there other things?"
Clark and Mills were curious about the savings associated with having just one principal oversee the two schools, now with fewer than 200 students. In addition, Clark suggested that one building might be sufficient now that the student population had dropped below that mile marker. He told the committee and the audience of 10 that if the school committee waited until the school population was down to 130 to make those big decisions there would be no school left to work with. Having students under one roof, he suggested, would save on a number of costs, but would also make it easier to have just one principal. Currently each school has a principal, and the high school has an assistant principal who is paid as a teacher but not for the additional principal duties.
Anticipating the question about savings with the principal positions, Underwood said that by his calculation the school system would save only $22,000 if it eliminated the elementary school teaching principal position. Clark spent some time doing his own calculations and challenged Underwood's figure saying that by his calculation the savings were more like $43,000. After looking over his numbers the superintendent agreed that Clark's figures were accurate, but still stood by his estimate saying that there were additional factors to consider.
In addition, Mills was joined by Gholson and Bradbury in suggesting that future contract negotiations needed to change the health insurance dynamic. An audience member pointed out that in some cases staff were receiving far more in health insurance benefits because of family coverage than they were in salary. Mills felt that the school should only be paying for single payer coverage for teachers and administrators. "We can be proactive about this next year," Bradbury said.