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Staff Writer
Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel 02/02/2010

AUGUSTA — The already dark financial picture for the city’s schools got another touch of gray Monday, when the state Department of Education released preliminary state school funding figures showing the cut to Augusta may be even deeper than anticipated.

Superintendent Cornelia Brown’s budget already anticipated the city’s schools would lose $1.3 million in state funding next year. But the latest numbers from the state indicate the cut will be about $130,000 more than that — about $1.4 million.

With programs including all elementary French classes, biotechnology and multimedia programs at Capital Area Technical Center, and consumer sciences and industrial arts at Cony High School already proposed to be cut next year, Brown recommends against cutting the budget by the additional $130,000 and also is against asking local taxpayers to make up for the projected loss in state revenue.

Instead, she’s recommending the loss be made up by taking more out of the School Department’s undesignated fund balance — money built up by funds unspent in previous years, generally used for unplanned expenses and emergencies.

Brown and Business Manager James Jurdak presented their proposed budget Monday to the Board of Education’s Finance Committee.

The $26.6 million budget is down $460,000, or 1.7 percent, from the current year’s budget, and down $1.9 million compared to the previous year’s budget.
However, because of the drops in revenues, funding the smaller budget could actually cost city property taxpayers more. The budget as proposed would require an additional $324,000 from local taxpayers.

“Looking at the last three years, this looks like the last of the juice in the orange that we can squeeze out,” Nathanael Rende, an at-large board member, said of the budget cuts.

Brown said the biotechnology and multimedia programs at Capital Area Technical Center have both recently had difficulty recruiting students, while some of the eight high schools that send students to CATC offer similar programs in their schools.

But Chris Davis, an adviser to the multimedia program, said the digital media part of the program has the fourth-highest enrollment at CATC.

Parent Judith Vanpoelvoorde said her son, who will be a senior, needs the program to stay in school and told the board she made plans to stay in the area after being assured by school staff the program would continue.

“I sold my house in Michigan specifically so my son could be in this program,” she told committee members. “If you’re making decisions like this, you should involve the parents.”

Cutting the biotechnology program would save $78,000. Cutting multimedia would save $155,000.
Local residents also have been rallying to keep the elementary French program, though none spoke at Monday’s meeting.

Brown said cutting elementary French would save $42,000 a year and, regrettably, is a purely financial decision.

Joan Howard, in an e-mail, said it would be shortsighted to cut elementary French, saying she started learning French in the third grade at the old Farrington School in Augusta and said the experience shaped her whole life.

She said she was intrigued by the language and went on to study it through college, earning a graduate degree in French literature and teaching French in college.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647