FAIRFIELD — Residents from the towns making up School Administrative District 49 voted to advance the $26.2 million budget for the 2017-2018 school year to the June 13 validation referendum, but opted to include freshmen sports in the budget, as they had initially been cut by the School Board..

More than 50 people from Albion, Benton, Clinton and Fairfield turned out for the annual meeting, whichl was held in the Lawrence Junior High School gymnasium Monday night and lasted less than an hour.

The School Board had proposed a $26,202,792.84 budget, representing a 1.5 percent hike over the current school budget. However, the final budget that was sent to referendum was $26,217,303.84 to include freshmen sports.

In a letter to residents of those towns, Superintendent of Schools Dean Baker said despite student enrollment holding steady, the budget reduces the number of employees. The positions lost include a support service worker, an educational technician and a library educational technician. The support services worker would have been a $55,000 salary; the educational technician would have been a $19,600 salary. And the library technician would have been a $29,600 salary.

Additionally, two school buses, valued at $90,000 each, also were cut from earlier versions of the budget, and some maintenance projects were deferred.

A move to amend the budget was made to put roughly $14,500 back in to fund freshmen sports, which include football and boys and girls basketball. Under the board’s proposal, freshmen would still have been able to try out for varsity and junior varsity sports, but would not have had their own program.

The person who brought forth the amendment, Eric Lunt, stood and said that extra curricular and co-curricular activities are very important to freshmen students. They are at an age where they can’t work yet, and if sports were taken away it would create a “whole demographic of kids who won’t have anything to do.” He said in difficult times where there is drug epidemic across the state, they could not just let kids be idle.

“Cutting activities for kids is just not the answer,” he said.

School Board Chairwoman Shelley Rudnicki said she wished she saw people standing talking about different cuts, such as the budget calling for a library technician to be cut.

“We have made hard choices,” she said.

While many who spoke agreed creating a budget was a difficult task, those in the crowd decided to put the funding back in.

Residents spent almost an hour discussing the 19-article budget warrant, the largest portion of which was made up in regular instruction. That item came in at more than $10.8 million, which constituted an increase of nearly $400,000. The next largest figure covers facility maintenance, which is proposed at just under $4 million. This is lower than the current year’s figure by about $124,000. After that, the next largest is the proposal for special education at roughly $3.8 million. This, too, is a reduction of more than $62,000.

Most of the discussion was spent around returning freshmen sports to the budget. There was virtually no other discussion on any budget items, with everything else being passed as proposed by the School Board.

Another large line item in the budget went to transportation, with a total expenditure of more than $1.6 million. The latest enrollment figures indicated there are 2,124 students attending schools in SAD 49. In order to transport most of those students, the district’s fleet of buses travels over 1,600 miles a day. Maintaining the buses, staffing drivers and buying fuel are all significant costs.

More than $2.5 million was allocated for student and staff support, and more than $1.4 million went to school administration costs.

The proposal also recommends using a one-time allocation of $300,000 to offset a portion of the local share of the increase. That money is coming from a refund the district received from the Maine Public Employees Retirement System for overpaying over the course of several years. A proposal has earmarked the remaining $500,000 of that repayment for a capital reserve budget, where it would remain until voters approve a project that the money would fund.

Over the past 10 years, all schools in the district have received maintenance and facilities improvements. Albion Elementary has received $285,000 worth of improvements; Benton Elementary, $965,000; Clinton Elementary, $627,000; Fairfield Primary, $117,000; Lawrence Junior High School, $264,000; and Lawrence High School, $2.1 million in repairs over the 10-year period.

The modest 1.5 percent increase is in line with past proposals. On average, budget increases over the past five years have been less than 1.5 percent. In that same time frame, state funding has decreased by 6 percent. The last increase larger than that came in the 2015-2016 proposal, when there was an increase of nearly 5 percent.

Under this budget, Albion would contribute just under $1.5 million towards the district; Benton would allocate more than $2.1 million; Clinton would allocate more than $2.1 million, and Fairfield would allocate nearly $4.4 million. All told, the towns’ allocation towards the district totals more than $10.1 million.

Not included in the overall budget is the $140,000 budget for adult education. Baker said excluding adult education from the final budget figure conforms with a state budgeting model.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis