Camden-Rockport’s school board recently trimmed a chunk from its proposed 2010-2011 budget, driving expenditures down by almost $500,000 from current spending.

“Just because we went below zero [a zero percent budget increase] doesn’t mean that we’re done,” said Matt Dailey, Maine School Administrative District 28 Finance Committee chairman, on March 15.

The SAD 28 Finance Committee will meet Wednesday, March 17 at 5 p.m. in the Camden-Rockport Elementary School atrium to continue discussion of the 2010-2011 requested budget and more potential budget cuts.

The proposed budget is $12.5 million, down $11,930 from the current budget. The proposed budget does not contain salary increases for administrators, nor salary increases for teachers and educational technicians. The latter two groups are currently in contract negotiations with SAD 28 and the outcomes are expected to become public later this month or in early April.

The $12.5 million budget also includes a 10 percent increase in health insurance benefits, although the district has since learned that the health insurance, carried by Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, may increase by only 2 percent.

The budget, along with those of the Five Town Community School District, municipalities and county, will go before voters in June at annual meeting. The budget cutting process the two school districts are now undergoing is in preparation for presentation to voters at public meetings and then the polls. The budget cutting by the school board finance committees is preliminary and based on straw votes, meaning nothing is cast in stone. The figures from Augusta concerning state aid to local schools also continue to fluctuate.

SAD 28 is working off of its $12.5 requested budget, however, and despite the decrease in requested funding, and as of March 16, the Camden and Rockport taxpayer would still see an increase in school bills, due to diminished contributions by the Maine Department of Education of $439,163. With no budget trimming by the school board, Camden would expect to see a $273,934 increase in tax payments to SAD 28, and Rockport would see a $165,229 increase.

Armed with those numbers, a proposed list of budget cuts, and projected enrollment figures, the finance committee of SAD 28 met March 13 at 9 a.m. to consider eliminating teaching positions, software and food service personnel hours. By 11:45 a.m., the committee had combed through the entire list of tier one cuts, and cut $496,096.

The district superintendents, principals and finance director had submitted two tiers of potential cuts to the finance committee, with the bulk of the potential cuts lying with tier one. The tier two proposed cuts amount to $102,138 and will be considered Wednesday, March 17 at 5 p.m.

The SAD 28 board, using straw votes, cut $496,096 from the proposed budget that included:

4 classroom teachers (three at the middle school and one at the elementary school)

1/2 special education teacher

2/5 band teacher

1/5 world language teacher

3 special education ed techs

1/2 central office administration

CRMS athletic director

Operations and maintenance reduction

Board stipends

Refinancing the locally funded bonds

Various other smaller reductions

The board added:

1/5 Response to intervention teachers

Title I funding due to a loss of federal money

SAD 28, consisting of Camden-Rockport elementary and middle schools, educates approximately 747 students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade; of those students, 391 are at the elementary school and 356 are at the middle school. Enrollment has been dropping since 2005, and it is the current eighth-grade class that is the largest, with 120 students. The remaining classes range in size from 61 to 87 students. The district is anticipating 67 kindergarten students next September.

According to Assistant Superintendent Michael Weatherwax, enrollment may drop to 692 next fall.

Since 2002, the budget has climbed from $8.7 million to last year’s $12.5 million. Incorporated into that is the debt load assumed by the voters of the two towns to pay for the $14 million expansion of the elementary school on Route 90 in Rockport. Voters had approved closing the former Rockport Elementary School East in Rockport Village and expanding its other Rockport Elementary School West to house grades kindergarten through four.

The principal and interest debt of $1.2 million, combined with other maintenance and renovation debt accrued over the years, results in a current annual debt load of $1.6 million. SAD 28 is also considered a minimum receiver, meaning that its property values are high enough, according to the state, that the Maine Department of Education funding for the district is at an all time low of approximately $220,000.

The district has also been socked with a $219,697 penalty for not reorganizing with the Five Town CSD and Union 69 (Appleton, Hope and Lincolnville) last year into a new regional school unit.

The current funding arrangement entails that the bulk of education costs lands on the shoulders of local taxpayers. Therefore, a state funding shortfall on a status quo $12.5 million budget would mean Camden and Rockport taxpayers would face a tax increase.

School budgets are funded according to state property tax valuation, and with a $12.5 million budget, Camden would be expected to pay $6.1 million and Rockport, $5.3 million for the SAD 28 budget alone (excluding the Five Town CSD, municipal and county budgets, all of which occupy a portion of the taxpayer’s wallet). That would potentially mean a $4.69 percent increase for Camden, or $24.9 additional payment per $100,000 of valuation, although the district stresses the numbers remain preliminary.

For example, an owner of a home assessed by the town at $100,000 would pay $24.9 more on his tax bill this coming year. Likewise, Rockport would see a 3.18 percent increase, or $16.85 more per $100,000 of valuation.

SAD 28 board members discussed at previous meetings their role in helping to alleviate the even more dire fiscal short of approximately $1.5 million at the Five Town CSD, with the consensus remaining to separate business from each other.

The SAD 28 board may resume the discussion at its March 17 meeting, however, and at the same time, identify what its overall goal is in trimming the SAD 28 budget.

“We need to identify what our goal is so we can all agree on when we’ve finished our job,” said Dailey.

To receive a copy of the tiered cuts/savings or the requested budget, contact Tina Swanson at 236-3358 or tina_swanson@fivetowns.net. The Finance Committee and school board chairman encourage individuals with concerns, comments or questions to e-mail the school board at sadpass@fivetowns.net.