FARMINGTON — RSU 9 residents will have their first opportunity to weigh in on school spending in a preliminary budget vote on Wednesday at 7 p.m. on the Mt. Blue campus. The district-wide vote on the annual budget is scheduled for June 13.

The RSU 9 board of directors have put forth a $33.9 million budget proposal, a 3.5 percent increase over last year’s schools budget. The board decided on its budget May 2 after months of reviewing RSU 9 school programming and having meetings with teachers and administrators. In each of those meetings, board members and administrators weighed two sometimes contradictory questions: what is best for RSU 9 students and what will voters approve?

Complicating the board’s efforts, RSU 9 has yet to hear what it will receive in state funding. Gov. Paul LePage has proposed steep cuts to education in his budget proposal, including eliminating state support for system administration. If successful, LePage’s proposal could shift an additional $500,000 in administration costs onto RSU 9 towns.

For the last three years, Superintendent Thomas Ward said he has been forced to freeze the district’s budget partway through the school year when the district was repeatedly hit with unexpected costs after its budget was set. Those costs have included students moving into the district with $300,000 in special education needs in each of the past two years. By adminstrators’ accounting, the freezes have prevented RSU 9 schools from spending their annual allotted budgets resulting in years of deferred projects, materials purchases and grounds maintenance.

Unlike its towns, the RSU 9 district does not have back up reserve funds to draw on in the event of such financial blows. Typically, the contingency funds administrators request to help weather the unexpected are the first to go in budget cuts such as those over the past two years.

This year the district is requesting $30,008 in contingency money under article 2, or special services costs. Voters will note the special services line item, which includes special education mandates like one-to-one education technicians and summer programming for high needs students, has the largest requested increase from $4.6 million in the 2016-2017 school year to $5.2 million for 2017-2018.

More than half of that increase comes from the addition of 17 educational technicians to the 2017-2018 budget. Some of those technicians are already on the district’s payroll, having coming in with new students in the previous school year. Others were required as schools identified needs among the existing student population.

Other articles under consideration on Wednesday include a $204,027 increase in student and staff support with the hiring of three social workers, $45,000 in additional transportation costs for two new school buses, and $49,402 in additional hours for educational technicians in the district’s adaptive skills programs.

Residents also will be asked to approve budget cuts, including defunding the international student program at Mt. Blue High School, which would save the district $20,000; fewer transportation equipment purchases; and a decrease in a copier lease that would save the district $10,460.

Kate McCormick — 861-9218

[email protected]

Twitter: @KateRMcCormick