In less than half an hour, the Wiscasset School Department’s $8.9 million budget for 2016-2017 was approved at the budget meeting May 25 with near-unanimous support from the few people in attendance.
The budget will now move forward to a referendum vote on Tuesday, June 14 for final approval. According to Wiscasset School Committee Chair Steve Smith, the turnout at the budget meeting provided no indication of whether Wiscasset supports the budget or not.
“It’s upsetting that no one showed up,” Smith said. “Twenty people were here. How does this represent the town, or give us any indication how people feel about our budget?”
Almost half of the about 20 people in attendance were school committee members or school department staff, Smith said.
The budget meetings are an opportunity for residents to weigh in on the budget and express their opinion, Smith said. With such low turnout, Smith said he does not know how the school committee would know if it is on the right track.
The Wiscasset School Department’s 2016-2017 budget is the third budget developed by the department as an independent school district. The proposed $8,995,276 budget for 2016-2017 is a 6.32 percent increase from the previous year’s budget of $8,426,886.
The local allocation, or amount to be raised from taxes, is $6,028,449 in 2016-2017, a 9.59 percent increase from the 2015-2016 local allocation of $5,500,846.
The school department has worked hard to keep the community informed about the budget throughout the budget development process, Superintendent Heather Wilmot said. The superintendent’s website, where budget information is shared, has gotten a lot of new traffic, and emails are regularly sent out to families, Wilmot said.
At the Wiscasset School Committee meeting Thursday, May 26, Smith said he had spoken to some community members about the low turnout at the budget meeting. According to Smith, he was told that individuals did not feel the need to attend the meeting because so much information about the budget was spelled out so clearly.
While also disappointed at the low turnout at the budget meeting, Wilmot said she was happy about the support the budget has received. “We’ve gone through three layers, and it’s been unanimous support thus far,” Wilmot said.
The 2016-2017 budget was unanimously approved by the school committee, and there were no opposing votes from the budget committee.
There was little to no discussion at the budget meeting on the different categories. Only two questions were asked throughout the meeting to clarify what each category includes.
The secret ballot vote on raising additional funds, above and beyond what is required by the state, passed with 20 in favor and one ballot left blank.
While the school department’s 2016-2017 budget has received strong support, “the referendum is the final decision,” Wilmot said.