Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit voters approved all 18 articles up for consideration during the budget-adoption meeting Thursday, May 17 in the Chelsea Elementary School gymnasium.
Richard “Dick” Thompson moderated the meeting.
Early on, RSU 12 board member Keith Marple, of Whitefield, said he would abstain from voting on articles throughout the evening.
“We’ve already had our vote,” Marple said, referring to himself and his fellow board members, who passed the budget April 12. He urged others on the board to join him in abstaining. Only one board member, Richard Cote, of Chelsea, followed suit, not long after Marple’s suggestion.
The 2018-2019 budget comes in at $22,223,292.38, a 3.54 percent increase over the district’s 2017-2018 budget due to several factors. The most notable, as RSU 12 Superintendent Howard Tuttle pointed out in his budget presentation, is an enrollment increase of 48 students.
Other factors include the need to hire a school nurse, a school social worker, an instructional coach, and a nutritionist for the district.
Tuition for high school-age students accounts for one-fourth of the budget, Tuttle said. RSU 12 does not have a high school, so it pays tuition for students to attend the public or private high school of their choice. Special education accounts for another 18 percent of the budget, Tuttle said.
A $56,931.27 or 4.68 percent increase in transportation costs, said Tuttle, is due in part to the need for school bus replacement. “We try to replace two buses a year and take two off the road,” he said, as a bus only lasts about 10 years.
Additionally, video cameras must be installed on all buses as a safety measure, at a cost of $12,500, Tuttle said.
Article 1, regular instruction, in the amount of $11,101,095, was approved by a vote of 76-47 after a failed attempt to lower the amount to $10,738,595. Similarly, Article 2, special education instruction, passed after an attempt to amend the amount from $4,077,832 to $3,781,332.
Most articles, including Article 5, student and staff support, which is $1,010,634 of the 2018-2019 budget; and Article 8, transportation, at $1,272,150, passed without discussion.
Article 16, authorizing the district’s adult education program and raising the local share for it, generated a fair amount of public discussion before finally passing. Part of the discussion revolved around determining the meaning of the wording of the article – whether the $50,000 mentioned as the local share was in addition to or part of the total appropriated amount of $83,929.98. Board Chair Jerry Nault stepped in to clarify that the $50,000 is included in the total amount.
Some of the funding under Article 16 goes to the HiSET program, formerly known as the GED program. Students who did not graduate high school can take the HiSET exam to earn a similar credential.
Whitefield Selectman Lester Sheaffer stepped to the microphone to speak against funding for the program. “These kids have made a choice,” he said of HiSET students. “I don’t believe we, as taxpayers, should pay.”
Following Sheaffer’s comments, board member Christopher Johnson, of Somerville, spoke in defense of funding the HiSET program, as well as career and technical training and college transition assistance, all part of the RSU 12 Adult Education program.
Johnson referred to such assistance as “something that’s expected of school systems in Maine,” emphasizing that it helps people get jobs and pay their property taxes.
On the subject of property taxes, a mailer sent to RSU 12 residents prior to the May 17 meeting notified them that the state “has increased the required mil rate from 8.19 to 8.51. This increase in the required mil rate reduces the amount of state subsidy RSU 12 receives. Currently, 56 percent of RSU 12’s essential programs and services calculation is funded by state subsidy, so any loss of state subsidy is challenging.”
A chart in that same mailer offered a breakdown of the cost-sharing formula for each of the RSU 12 towns. Windsor’s 2018-2019 contribution is the highest of the seven towns, at $2,982,951.38, an increase over the previous school year of $304,266.98.
Of the towns in Lincoln County, Alna’s contribution is $956,463.70, an increase of $19,213.87; Somerville’s is $610,513.18, an increase of $24,865.08; Westport Island’s is $716,232.11, an increase of $63,280.29; and Whitefield’s is $2,225,208.33, a decrease of $44,421.47. Only Whitefield and Palermo have a decrease in their contributions compared to the 2017-2018 school year.
Tuttle was pleased with the outcome of the meeting.
“The RSU 12 Board of Directors proposed a budget that maintains quality educational experiences and maximizes programming while remaining fiscally conservative. It was heartening to have such strong support among the voters for education and our students at the district budget meeting,” he said after the meeting.
A budget validation referendum, the final step in the budget approval process, will take place Tuesday, June 12 at various local polling places.