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Pondering revenue enhancements?

Although the economic shock waves of the national recession rippled through Maine’s schools last year, the full impact was dampened by aid distributed through the federal stimulus package.

Now the recession is slowly scouring an even larger hole in the state budget, forcing lawmakers to cut back on their commitments and a possible curtailment in state aid to schools. The shortfall for K-12 schools is an estimated $38.1 million for this year and $36.2 million for 2010-2011.

To adjust, local schools may be asked to trim their budgets for 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 to lower levels of state aid. The impact would vary according to the proportion of state aid with high receivers in poorer systems being hurt the most.

The projected cuts for the University of Maine System are $7.5 million in Fiscal Year 2010 and $7.5 million in FY 11. For the Maine Community Colleges the cuts are $2.1 million for this year and $2.1 million for next year.

Any proposed budget cuts will be taken up by the 124th Maine Legislature when it convenes in January and will not be subject to a curtailment order by the governor.

“Cuts would be the wrong approach at the wrong time,” says MEA President Chris Galgay. “We need to change the mind set. Maine needs to invest in education, not whittle schools down budget cut by budget cut.”

Galgay warns that: “Every dollar spent on education is an investment in Maine’s future prosperity and any cutbacks must be held to an absolute minimum. The parents and citizens of Maine should know that further budget reductions lead directly to a reduction in the quality of our student programs.”

Until the final budget figures are determined and their impact is calculated, MEA’s advice to local affiliates is to sit tight. “It is premature and inappropriate for employer representatives to be asking for contract re-openers or concessions,” says MEA Executive Director Mark L. Gray.

A state-mandated furlough option promoted by some administrators is off the table, as an opinion from the attorney general’s office concludes that the State of Maine does not have the authority to modify collective bargaining agreements and to impose furlough days.

“If the budget revenues do not rebound, the first step in this process is to consider revenue enhancements at the state level,” Gray concludes. “All options should be evaluated before we contemplate any further sacrifices of our children’s future.”

“We need to begin a public dialogue so that the legislature can make intelligent, informed choices,” says Gray. “The voters have just shown their support for education and needed public services and an investment in their children’s future is not out of the question. A temporary revenue enhancement would be a viable alternative to wholesale cuts in funding.”


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