Updated with exact local contribution figures
The seven towns of the Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit approved the district’s 2015-2016 budget of $20,271,921 during a meeting at Chelsea Elementary School Tuesday, May 19.
The three-hour meeting was not without debate. Chelsea Selectman Richard Danforth led the vocal opposition to the budget, repeatedly attempting to amend articles to reduce the budget to the 2014-2015 level.
The regular instruction category of the budget passed as recommended by the board, 40-26, and several other contested categories or amendments had similar vote totals.
The $20,271,921 budget, an increase of $537,654 or 2.72 percent from the 2014-2015 budget, will now head to a referendum vote in each of the district’s seven towns – Alna, Westport Island, Whitefield, Windsor, Chelsea, Palermo, and Somerville – for final approval.
Voters will be asked a simple yes or no question on Tuesday, June 9, at their municipalities’ respective polling location – “Do you approve the budget that was adopted at the Regional Budget Meeting on May 19?”
The answer to the question will determine the result of RSU 12’s months-long budget process.
RSU 12 released its preliminary budget in March and presented the budget to the boards of selectmen in each town in the district. The majority of line items in the budget remained flat; however, the budget was an increase from the previous year largely due to the increased cost of tuition and health insurance.
The budget underwent a series of revisions and was further reduced by $34,937 at Tuesday’s meeting due to RSU 12 no longer being responsible for charter school tuition payments.
While the budget is still a 2.72 percent increase from the previous year, the overall local contribution to the budget increased by 3 percent, due to reduced non-local revenue streams. The local contribution to RSU 12’s budget is $10,231,617 – a $297,697 increase from the previous year’s local contribution of $9,933,920.
The increase will not be felt equally among the towns in RSU 12’s district.
Due to a new cost-sharing formula being phased in by RSU 12, which will result in municipalities paying the same cost per student, some municipalities saw a significant decrease in their local contribution while others saw a significant increase.
Westport Island saw the largest decrease in its local contribution – from $1,012,040 in 2014-2015 to $865,725 in 2015-2016.
Alna also saw a decrease in its local contribution – from $898,625 in 2014-2015 to $891,984 in 2015-2016.
Somerville saw the largest increase in its local contribution – from $474,356 in 2014-2015 to $526,691 in 2015-2016. Windsor also saw a significant increase – from $1,874,138 in 2014-2015 to $2,062,354.
Palermo’s local contribution increased from $1,643,085 in 2014-2015 to $1,769,735 in 2015-2016. Chelsea’s local contribution increased from $1,968,607 in 2014-2016 to $2,008,555 in 2015-2016. Whitefield’s local contribution increased from $2,063,070 to $2,106,573 in 2015-2016.
“As a selectman in the town of Chelsea, we worked hard to keep our budget flat, so I’m asking the RSU unit to do the same thing,” Danforth, the Chelsea selectman and most vocal opponent of the budget proposal, said at Tuesday’s meeting.
Fellow Chelsea Selectman Benjamin Smith also spoke against the budget proposal.
“I think we should try to have the district work within some confines where it would meet its true obligations, which are providing education, providing instruction for students, and there are areas where I think savings can be made, including some of your facilities that were discussed earlier, including maybe some of the other expenditures that are not integral to providing an actual education to students,” Smith said.
Whitefield Selectman Lester Sheaffer joined the opposition. “Taxes are getting out of control,” Sheaffer said. “We’re asking to help the town keep control of their taxes.”
“What’s going to hurt the education of the kids or succeed with the education of the kids are the teachers we have in the classrooms, and to keep throwing money at the situation isn’t going to increase or decrease the level of the care of the teachers we have,” Sheaffer said. “I think we need to start looking at the taxpayers once in a while and just say, ‘Okay, we’re going to freeze it this year and go from there.'”
Others supported the budget. Whitefield resident Rose Angell noted that any budget reductions would disproportionately affect K-8 students. RSU 12 does not have a high school. Instead, it pays tuition for students to attend private and public high schools outside the district. RSU 12 does not control those tuition costs.
As a result, Angell said, “I think we should support the work (the RSU 12 Board of Directors has) done and hope that you’ve done your best to keep it reasonable.”
Lee-Ann Bragdon, of Windsor, said she has seen “a huge improvement in the past two years” in the quality of education in RSU 12.
Her older son was not ready for high school when he graduated from eighth grade, although he eventually caught up and received a scholarship to attend college. Her younger son was ready.
“I hate to see any cuts under regular instruction so that any of our kids K-8 would suffer and have to go back to what my son, Briar, did in the previous years, maybe eight years ago,” Bragdon said.
Alyssa Urquhart, of Alna, also spoke in favor of the budget.
“To go any lower than the budget we’ve seen would be directly negatively impacting the education that we’re giving to the students, and I think that the number one important thing in our school system is to make sure our students are getting the education that they need and that they deserve,” Urquhart said.
The referendum vote on the RSU 12 2015-2016 budget will take place June 9 at the respective polling locations of the municipalities in the RSU 12 district.