Four of five Waldoboro Select Board members expressed opposition to the $81 million capital improvement bond proposal RSU 40 representatives presented last month.
John Blodgett, Bob Butler, Abden Simmons, and Mike Thayer agreed at a Tuesday, Sept. 5 meeting that the school system is important, but said the district’s proposal does not prioritize, provide concrete terms, finances, or outcomes, and includes “wish list” items that could impact municipal budget decisions in future years.
Board member Will Pratt did not speak at the meeting. The special meeting was held to allow the select board to discuss the proposal as a group, according to Town Manager Julie Keizer.
The board of directors of RSU 40, which consists of the towns of Friendship, Union, Waldoboro, Warren, and Washington, voted in June to put the authorization question on the November ballot.
More than half of the bond’s total would be dedicated to Miller School and Medomak Valley High School, both in Waldoboro. Proposed improvements include more than 10,000 feet of additional space at each school, heating, septic, and water treatment replacements, and general renovations.
Proposed work also includes artificial turf, new lights, and new seating for high school athletics, along with new auditorium seating and carpet. Other work at Miller includes playground and ball field upgrades.
Thayer opened the discussion with questions about the necessity of expansions to the elementary and high school and a new bus garage for the district. He also asked about student enrollment projections for the next 10 years and said many residents could not afford the increase in their taxes, which is expected to take effect in 2025.
Blodgett said the need for work on district schools was not a question, but he felt the proposal was offering a “checkbook” for wish list requests. He suggested the increased tax burden could cause the town’s budget committee to have to cut positions and services it offers now.
Simmons said he would want to see the district address issues that could close the schools first.
The ballot question, written by the school board, reads that “the project may include, but is not limited to” items including boiler replacements, a new septic field for the high school, ventilation, and more. Members said this phrasing is too open-ended and does not define how the district would prioritize the projects.
“This is not transparency, and that’s where I’m uncomfortable,” Butler said.
Several members said they had asked the school board to develop a priority list of projects and have not received one.
Butler said the presentation did not directly tie the proposed upgrades to Medomak Valley’s accreditation concerns. The school was put on probation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges in 2005 and has been on warning since 2017 for facility reasons.
Keizer also said the bond, if approved, would affect the town’s borrowing capacity for future needs. Several board members said they felt the current economy made the bond proposal poorly timed.
The only resident in the audience, George Seaver, once a member of the RSU 40 Board of Directors and a current member of the town’s economic development committee, said he thought the project’s tax impact would drive potential business owners to other towns.
Select board members did not take a vote Sept. 5, as the school board had already voted to place the question on the ballot.
The capital improvement presentation is available at rsu40.org/capital-improvement-information.
The Waldoboro Select Board next meets at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 12 in the town office and online.