The school board that serves Rockland, Thomaston, St. George, Owls Head, South Thomaston and Cushing will receive Superintendent Judy Lucarelli’s proposed budget next week for the 2010-2011 school year.

The superintendent provided a preview of the budget earlier this month when she made her recommendations on what positions should be eliminated or reduced. More than 21 teaching positions, 20 support staff jobs, several administrative posts, and 21 stipend positions were put on the chopping block.

On April 1 (no April Fools’ joke), the superintendent will unveil the overall budget that will detail all the proposed cuts in programs and supplies.

But there is one huge variable that is unresolved: the contracts with employees, particularly the largest labor union, the one with teachers. Eighty percent of a school budget is the pay and benefits provided to all staff.

Let’s take a look at the pay issue over the past decade.

In 2000, a teacher who had earned a bachelor’s degree but had no experience was paid a starting salary of $23,587 to work in Maine School Administrative District 5.

That same teacher 10 years later is now earning $42,417. That is an 80 percent increase from a decade earlier.

Other than Wall Street bankers, hospital chief executive officers, and professional athletes, there are few people who have seen their pay skyrocket 80 percent in 10 years – particularly when the past two years have been during our Great Recession.

The chance of a contract agreement with teachers in Regional School Unit 13 being reached before the budget is finalized by the board in May is about as great as Glenn Beck becoming sane.

The issue is more complex in RSU 13 than in the other local school districts because RSU 13 must try to consolidate two separate teacher contracts. The pay scales and benefits are different for those employed originally in SAD 5 and those who started in SAD 50.

The former SAD 50 teachers likely want to be brought up to the pay of their counterparts in the former SAD 5 schools and the former SAD 5 staffers will not want to be dropped down to the level of their SAD 50 colleagues.

These negotiations may be long ones.

If negotiations do drag out, the majority of teachers will see no increase since half or more of faculty members are at the top of the pay scale and thus they will have nowhere to go without a new contract. The teachers on the lower part of the pay ladder, however, will receive pay hikes.

That teacher who is being paid $42,417 will get another $408 annually (1 percent) starting in the next school year. This is in addition to health insurance that the government might consider to be of the Cadillac variety.

And the RSU 13 board has little time to develop its budget. The neighboring districts have nearly completed their budget development and their potential cuts are not nearly as dramatic as what RSU 13 is facing.

Whatever contract is agreed to will have a significant impact on the school budget. The pay and benefits for the 450 staff members of the school district amount to $23 million. A change of only a few percent will add substantial money to the budget.

Voters will be asked June 8 to adopt a budget that may have considerable uncertainty because of the lack of new contracts.

In Rockland, the owner of a typical home assessed at $150,000 pays nearly $2,600 annually in property taxes. Half that money – more than $100 per month – goes for the school budget. So translated, about $80 per month goes for the salaries and benefits of school staff.

Eighty dollars a month may not seem like much but at a time when income in the private sector has fallen sharply, it’s significant. Lobstermen, for instance, earned 40 percent less last year than they did four years ago. Retailers earned about 10 percent less than they did a year ago.

The school district may have a hard sell in June trying to convince people who have seen their incomes drop 10 to 40 percent – or those who are on unemployment or have had their unemployment expire – to pay more in property taxes so others can get a raise.

One local school official said she refers to many employed in a school district as living in the bubble with little connection to the economic reality of those outside the bubble. She also maintained that when people plead for higher school budgets because it’s “for the kids” she knows it’s not about the kids but more about the contracts.