The 2021-22 budget for RSU 40 will not increase property taxes in Waldoboro. The budget will go to a referendum vote Tuesday, June 8.
RSU 40 Superintendent Steve Nolan said by email that “new expenditures are limited to wage and benefit increases and a small amount for after-school supervision at our middle school.”
The budget summary proposes an additional $871,323 in salaries and wages, an increase of 2.9%; an additional $162,021 for benefits, an increase of 0.5%; and $4,000 toward athletic supervision for Medomak Middle School.
Nolan said “the cost increases will be paid for with our fund balance, so there will be no school-based increase in property taxes.”
The budget for the district, which includes five towns in Knox and Lincoln counties, totals $30,938,366, a decrease of $399,380 or 1.27% from 2020-21. Waldoboro’s share is $5,973,641, down $140,408 or 2.3%. Waldoboro is the only RSU 40 town in Lincoln County.
According to Nolan, per-pupil spending remains below average at $11,966 per student. A comparison on the district website indicates that RSU 40 would need an additional $2.2 million to fund its schools at a level similar to RSU 71 in Belfast, $4 million to fund them at a level similar to RSU 1 in Bath, and $7.4 million to fund them at a level similar to RSU 13 in Rockland, all districts similar in size and structure to RSU 40.
Nolan said the district faces three persistent challenges: compensating staff competitively, improving curriculum, and improving facilities.
Nolan said the district has to hire 50-70 new employees every year, out of 400 staff members. He said turnover is likely to remain high if salaries are not competitive and that an inability to retain experienced teachers can negatively impact student learning.
Nolan said that a newly negotiated teachers contract “represents significant progress in terms of staff compensation.”
The district’s comprehensive planning team has determined that a key objective is to build a curriculum “that is horizontally and vertically aligned to a shared set of district-wide learning goals.” According to Nolan, “the curriculum is a continual process which should never end.” There are programs not offered in all RSU 40 schools, such as world languages, that he wants to make available to more students.
Facilities represent the third persistent challenge. Nolan said Medomak Valley High School “is approaching 60 years with no significant renovations.”
While COVID-19 relief funds have brought improvements to ventilation systems and paid for new windows at Miller School, Nolan said a backlog remains from years of inadequate facilities maintenance.
Nolan said that additional COVID-19 improvements include trenching and groundwork to gain larger outdoor spaces and better drainage, and new classroom furniture to aid in physical distancing. According to Nolan, the district does not have a budget to replace furniture.
Nolan said the district planned COVID-19 spending wisely to “try to take advantage as best we could with solutions that would last.”
Nolan said that concerns about budget cuts for special education are unfounded.
He said that when building the 2020-21 budget, the district projected that it would need funding for 395 special education students. In anticipation of the increase, the district added a teacher and 12 educational technicians.
However, there were only 344 students and projections for 2021-22 are even lower, at 334 students. According to Nolan, the district couldn’t justify the same level of staffing for special education with 60 fewer students in the program.
Nolan said the district eliminated positions, including eight ed tech spots that had not been filled last year. “I saw opportunities to move stuff around to meet our student needs before asking for more money,” Nolan said. “I just couldn’t justify it at this time.”
The budget breaks down into cost centers as follows, in order by amount: regular instruction, $11,534,652.45; special education, $6,650,028.65; facilities maintenance, $3,047,523.78; student and staff support, $2,544,794.14; transportation and buses, $2,248,261.96; school administration, $1,905,442.53; debt service and other commitments, $1,399,083.13; system administration, $975,366.59; and other instruction, $560,961.61.
The budget for career and technical education, as approved by the Region 8 Cooperative Board, totals $5,446,304, a decrease of $197,742 or 3.5%.
Expenses for other programs are as follows: $125,000 for nutrition, flat to last year; $124,987 for adult education, an increase of $48,406 or 62.45%, with a local share of $50,000; and $236,200 for career and technical adult education, an increase of $7,477 or 3.27%, with a local share of $25,300.12.
Nolan said the district has been working to erase a long-term deficit in the fund balance and this year is the first time in seven years that it has had a positive fund balance. COVID-19 closures kept expenses down, and serving 2,000 meals a day between all five towns increased reimbursement from the state, leading to a current-year fund balance of around $1 million.
With COVID-19 still a factor, Nolan said, “It doesn’t feel like the right time to ask the community to support changes that will cause property tax increases.”
The polls will be open at the Waldoboro town office from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
RSU 40 also includes the Knox County towns of Friendship, Union, Warren, and Washington.