A school budget for Regional School Unit 18 was approved by voters Tuesday, the third time in five months it’s been up for a vote.
Residents of Oakland, Belgrade, China, Sidney and Rome approved the $31,972,592 budget, 937-335, in a district-wide referendum.
“We are all very happy this process is behind us and we can get back to the business of running our schools,” Superintendent Gary Smith said Tuesday night.
The budget passed in all five towns. In Belgrade, the vote was 171-52; in China, 133-46; Oakland 407-174; Rome 42-7; and Sidney 184-56.
Larger versions of the budget, for $33 million and $32.6 million, were rejected by voters in June and August.
Opponents of the earlier versions, including the board of selectmen in Belgrade and Sidney, cited concerns about the impact on local property tax rates. Supporters have said that a loss of education funding will adversely affect children in the classroom.
“I’m not that knowledgable about the ins and outs of the budget, but I think our children’s education is an important and that it’s an investment we should be willing to make,” said Melissa Evers, 58, of Oakland on Tuesday, who voted in support of the budget.
“It’s pretty minimal and our schools are more important than a lot of other services,” said Kevin Concaugh of Oakland.
But Jason Stevens, also of Oakland, said he voted against it because he did not feel he had been well informed of what the budget was. “There needs to be better communication with the public,” he said. “I knew I was voting on the budget but I didn’t know what that means.”
The budget includes a one-time use of $1.45 million from a reserve fund to help offset reductions in state and federal funding.
In order to meet the goal of a flat budget — a budget that showed no increase from the previous year’s — the district had to make up for fixed expense increases, like salaries, with a series of cuts.
Smith said that the cuts were identified with an effort to avoid staff reductions, minimize the impact on student programming and to maintain the district’s education goals.
Many of the cuts are deferrals of purchases and repairs rather than permanent reductions in operating costs.
Cuts include $95,000 in building maintenance projects; $35,000 in a bus replacement plan; $75,000 in technology equipment, $78,000 in professional development; and $354,223 in salary and benefits reductions, which includes a voluntary $225 pay cut for each teacher and administrator.
A tuition reimbursement program for teachers, classroom technology replacements, and heating fuel accounts was also cut by $50,000 apiece.
Because of the cuts, field trips were restricted to one per class, within a 25-mile radius, and pre-season sports trips were eliminated.
The flat budget will result in a redistribution of taxes among the towns, because state funding formulas are based on property value shifts in each municipality.
Oakland property owners have the biggest increase, about $25 per $100,000 of assessed property value. Belgrade property owners will pay about $9 more per $100,000 of assessed value, while China property owners will pay about $8 more per $100,000 of assessed value.
Rome property owners will have the biggest decrease, of $43 per $100,000 of assessed property value. Taxes on Sidney property owners will decrease by about $9 per $100,000 of assessed value.
Residents in some of those towns have already paid their tax bills this year based on the higher rate of the original budget. Belgrade’s taxes, for instance, were due Sept. 14.
In the monthly newsletter to residents, Belgrade Town Manager Greg Gill said that if the lower school budget passed, the money would be used to offset next year’s tax commitment and residents would not be getting a refund check.
“We can’t spend those funds on anything except to lower next year’s tax commitment,” he said.
The vote tallies are expected to become official on Thursday after a vote by the RSU 18 board. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Belgrade Central School.
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368