Voters in the Mt. Blue school district will get the chance to weigh in on a $31 million budget Monday that the superintendent said will likely increase local taxes.
Farmington-based school district is proposing a $31 million budget for the next school year, an increase of $1.29 million over spending in the current year, Superintendent Tom Ward said.
Ward said the school board and budget committee went through a time-consuming cutting process, but said $600,000 in fixed-cost increases and $400,000 in cuts from the state led to the majority of the 4.3 percent increase.
Voters will take an initial vote on the proposal at 7 p.m. Monday at the Mt. Blue High School and the budget voted on Monday will then go to a referendum vote June 10.
Ward said if voters approve the budget, property tax increases would vary by town, but the budget proposed by the board is expected to increase property taxes each district community.
The district, Regional School Unit 9, includes 10 towns from three counties: Chesterville, Farmington, Industry, New Sharon, New Vineyard, Starks, Temple, Vienna, Weld and Wilton.
The budget includes $18.2 million from the state, which is a $400,000 cut over the level of state aid in the current year, Ward said
It was the first budget developed by Ward, who was hired this year. Ward said he asked the school administrators to list their highest spending priorities. The budget committee then weeded through the list.
“It was a very involved process and everyone had input. I think it worked well in guiding the board over their deliberations,” he said.
The board could not afford to fund the full list of needs identified by school administrators, Ward said, so some requests were cut and others were set on two or three year plan for gradual implementation. For example, administrators wanted both an additional school nurse and physical education teacher, but will hire half time personnel and eventually hire full-time staff.
“We’ll re-evaluate when it comes to next year’s budget,” he said.
Ward said the district also needs an additional full-time technical support staff, because of the increase in technology in the classroom. However, he said the board decided instead to buy new computers for the kindergarten through sixth grade teachers, which will alleviate the maintenance workload by getting better-functioning equipment.
The budget includes $20,000 in startup money for a new foreign exchange program at Mt. Blue High School, said Ward.
Lisa Dalrymple, a Mt. Blue world language teacher, proposed the new program to use tuition dollars paid on behalf of the foreign students to hire an elementary world language teacher.
The school expects to pay for startup costs for the program with the first year of tuition.
Ward applauded the program as a creative way to find more revenue for the district’s needs.
“We’re very confident that we will get that money back within three years,” Ward said.
The superintendent said that, to a certain extent, the school budget had to increase to keep the district in compliance with a state law governing the local commitment to education funding.
Under the state funding formula, Essential Programs and Services, the state is required to contribute 55 percent of funding for what are considered essential educational services. However, tover the last few years, the state has contributed less than 55 percent funding — sometimes closer to 46 percent.
In the past, school districts were allowed to cut the budget to below their 45 percent match.
However, new education funding legislation gives local school districts until 2017 to fund their entire match.
Ward said that the school district plans to increase the budget gradually toward 2017, with a large portion of the increase coming from this years budget.
He said the school district “has been going without for so long” that it already needs budget increases to keep up with the district’s needs.
Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252 | firstname.lastname@example.org