Mar 16, 2017 By Mark Pecheniknews@seacoastonline.com
SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — Faced with a potential, significant loss in state subsidy, SAD 35 Superintendent Mary C. Nash recommended a possible increase in class sizes next year at the district’s board meeting on Wednesday night.
Nash told the board larger classes may be necessary to cope with Gov. Paul LePage’s recommended $769,000 decrease in state aid for the district.
“We could not make the magnitude of cuts necessary to reach $769,000 in additional reductions if we did not look at class sizes across the district,” Nash said, noting her 2018 budget is already calling for $425,000 in savings.
Nash has also called for $350,000 from the district’s fund balance and $450,000 in its projected year-end surplus as a means to limit taxpayer costs in support of local schools.
Under the revised class formula, class sizes on the elementary school level would be raised to the upper limit recommended by the district – as large as 22 students per classroom — plus one more student. Similarly, at Marshwood Middle School and Marshwood High School, class size would increase to 25 students.
Larger classes would, in turn, lead to reductions in teachers and staff, according to Nash. For instance, the elimination of a third-grade teacher position at Eliot Elementary School and second-grade teacher at Central Elementary School would be possible.
Other cost savings related to larger classes include a reduction in foreign language options at Marshwood Middle School. At Marshwood High School, course selections with the lowest number of students may face elimination.
However, Nash emphasized to the board that increasing class sizes is not a favorable course of action.
“Let me be very, very clear,” she said. “Reductions in staffing and related services as a result of increased class sizes will impact every single student enrolled in MSAD 35 next year. Although we will continue to work diligently together throughout the district to preserve the quality programming for which our district is known, we are at a tipping point.”
She then cited the board’s policy “that there is a relationship between class size and pupil achievement that varies across grade levels.”
Nash stressed, even with these changes, the district remains committed to its students. “What we are trying to do as a team is wrap our arms around our students to make sure these measures have the smallest impact as possible on them.”
Taxpayers will also face an increased burden under these circumstances. According to Nash, the total district assessment will increase from a proposed 2.6 percent increase to 2.97 percent due to the reduced state support.
The district is currently calling for a decrease in its 2018 school budget of 1.47 percent – from $31,444,172 this year to $30,982,682 next year.
Despite what she called a “grim outlook,” Nash concluded her remarks on a more positive note. “It is my hope the our community will rally and restore some or all of the reduced subsidy,” she said.