Next year’s budget has been one of the hardest to draft and will have impacts for years, Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit 12 Superintendent of Schools Howie Tuttle told the district board Feb. 11. “The primary reason is, at least right now, the state has sent us out the draft subsidy information and we have lost approximately $370,000 in subsidies,” Tuttle said in the meeting carried over YouTube.
Tuttle proposes cutting $75,000 that had been eyed for capital improvements. He does not love the decision, he said. “But we’ve done so much with COVID-19 funds improving ventilation and other things that perhaps we don’t need to tap the local money to do capital improvements ... And we needed to find places to eliminate big chunks of money.”
The draft cuts no teachers and leaves out some technology items, Tuttle said. The draft totals $24,781,424, up 4% from this year’s budget; the total local cost after the state subsidy is $13,966,691, up 11%, or $1,415,351, according to the presentation. “I’ve just plugged these numbers in this morning and I’m very concerned about our situation; 11% is a problem,” he said.
The draft showed Alna’s possible municipal assessment for education up $107,277 or 10.75%; and Westport Island’s up $29,619 or 3.52%. “There’s a different story for every town, and not much of it is good news,” Tuttle said. He said he hoped the next round of stimulus funds could help, if that can be done within the rules the money comes with.
According to the presentation, one of the district’s priorities was to stay full-time in person, and no longer have a remote learning option; 8% of students now learn remotely, Tuttle said. Responding to a board question, Tuttle said he had not considered possible loss of students for lack of remote learning, depending on vaccination requirements then. He expressed interest in working with teachers on a long term plan for remote learning. He said he did not think what the district did this year for it would be sustainable.
Also Feb. 11, Westport Island’s Richard DeVries told fellow board members, stimulus money will cover the nearly $400,000 redo of Chelsea Elementary School’s controls system. DeVries said the facilities committee would review the design to ensure the change is an improvement.
The controls have had problems since the school was built, Tuttle said. With the COVID-19 funds, “we have an opportunity to fix (that),” he said. Tuttle said the facilities committee approved the project late last year. DeVries said it may also need the board’s OK.
Tuttle addressed questions he has been hearing about why snow days are not remote learning days. He said that would mean special education accommodations, negotiating on work for support staff including cooks and bus drivers, meeting state standards for remote learning days and maybe dealing with storm-related power outages impacting internet access.
“I’m not sure we have a problem to solve, when we average about four storm days a year and they’re built into the calendar,” Tuttle said. Windsor representative Ryan Carvey agreed. He said, given the district returned to five days a week in-person this school year, with snow days being no school, SVRSU would still come out ahead of most on their time in session.
The board increased substitute bus drivers’ pay to $17.25 an hour, to match Wiscasset’s; and student support specialist Meagan Soule shared a recording of a Whitefield Elementary School fourth grader reading aloud to the school via Zoom as part of Maine’s Read to Me Challenge. “I was so excited to see the engagement level with all the kids ... and it was so nice to see these kids being able to see other kids reading to them,” Soule said.