Superintendent talks about spending freeze
Rockland — Regional School Unit 13 Superintendent Lew Collins said the spending freeze he put in place could mean fewer field trips for students and fewer conferences and professional development opportunities for teachers for the rest of this year.
He issued the spending and hiring freeze Oct. 25 after talking to the district's auditor, RHR Smith & Company.
The audit results will be presented to the school board Thursday, Nov. 7, at 6:30 p.m. at the McLain School. The board has also scheduled closed-door meetings on personnel matters and to evaluate the superintendent.
"Our projected fund balance for June 30, 2013, (the closing date of the school year being audited) may be significantly lower than anticipated," Collins said. "RSU 13 had used more than $700,000 of those reserve funds for this current year budget as a way to offset higher tax increases."
The superintendent said he does not have an exact figure yet as to how much lower.
"What he said is, we probably have significantly less than we thought," Collins said. "And that, of course, concerns me because we used a ton of money to offset taxes this year... So if that's not there, then we have worries."
He said the district tries to use that fund balance each year to mitigate taxes, and he is afraid the district will not have it at all next year to use.
"These issues arose as our independent auditor... completed its week-long audit of our prior school year's finances," Collins said. "The audit was conducted in September and early October."
Collins also addressed the unanticipated funds the school district received from the state during budget talks earlier this year.
"The additional state funding was used to pay for the increased local teacher retirement share," Collins said. "The additional $343,000 approved by the voters... was used to fund two new educational technicians, one at St. George and one at South School. A new teacher was also hired at South School due to significantly increased enrollments in grade three. The remainder of those funds, about $200,000 will be used to help our fund balance for next year's budget."
He said the next step to solving these budget problems will be to act on any corrections and financial oversight problems identified by the auditor. Next, the school district will have to control all discretionary spending for this year.
Collins also pointed out that while many of the students in Rockland schools come from low-income families, the property values are high in the community. As a result, the district receives the same level of state aid as Kennebunkport, he said. Collins added the state funding formula needs to be changed to take into account family incomes.
He said he will meet with administrators in the district Nov. 5 to hear their specific concerns.
The superintendent acknowledges anxieties among staff members in the district. The district has seen many changes in recent years, including staff cuts.
Union contract negotiations have begun in the district for teachers and support staff. Collins said the administrators will likely request contract negotiations soon.
The current spending freeze is for all non-mandated purchases, which includes expenses related to conferences, courses (for teachers) not mandated by an agreement, field trips and any other discretionary spending that can be reasonably controlled.
There also is a freeze on all hiring that is not mandated by law or any of the district's federal grants.
The freeze will be lifted when the administration is confident in the amount of funds actually available in the 2014 fiscal year, Collins said.
RSU 13 is comprised of schools in Rockland, Thomaston, South Thomaston, Owls Head, Cushing and St. George.
Courier-Gazette Editor Daniel Dunkle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 594-4401 ext. 122.
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Daniel Dunkle is editor of The Courier-Gazette and news director for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife, Christine, who also works for Courier Publications, and two children.
Dunkle has previously served as editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. He has worked as a reporter and photographer in the Midcoast for 15 years.
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