After the latest Regional School Unit 9 budget was voted down Tuesday by almost a 2-to-1 margin, one resident hopes the next round proceeds in less contentious fashion, and the school superintendent says communication can be improved if people listen to both sides.

Now that a third proposed budget for Farmington-based RSU 9 has failed at the polls, this time to administrators’ relief, the school board plans to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Mt. Blue High School campus to discuss the next steps and yet another budget proposal.

In the meantime, RSU 9 will implement the $32.7 million budget passed at the districtwide budget meeting, which included nearly $1 million in cuts, until it has its next budget meeting.

Schools Superintendent Tom Ward anticipates holding a budget meeting Oct. 10, he said, and then a referendum on Oct. 17, though the dates could change.

Charlie Webster, a resident of Farmington, a Franklin County commissioner and a former state senator, spoke out about the district’s spending habits and communication issues before the budget vote, but he said he’s hopeful that the school board and residents can reach an agreement.

Webster, who has long worked in politics, said he has never seen people so angry.

“This is a long time coming,” he said. “(…) It’s just the feeling that the administrators don’t care.”

Webster said he’s hopeful that the district will reach out to residents and work with them, but if not, “it’s just going to fester for years more.”

Some residents take issue with the way the district spends money, he said. For example, Webster said, some new hires are brought on at a higher salary than the people they are replacing.

Ward, the superintendent, said that people are offered salaries based on experience and that he’s never hired someone with less experience for more than their predecessor earned.

He also said that the school board has listened to both sides and that has been reflected in the changes and reductions made in the budget.

“I think there’s always room to improve communication,” Ward said, “but people have got to come to the table and be willing to listen to both sides.”

State law requires the district to operate on the budget approved at the last districtwide meeting, Ward said, but the district is going to continue with its current programs and staff in anticipation that a larger budget will be passed on Oct. 10.

“There’s a lot of support to not go with a $900,000 cut,” Ward said, adding that he was happy with the voter turnout.

If the current proposed budget had passed, the district would have had to cut 30 positions and multiple student programs, including all winter and spring sports. Those particular cuts would have been necessary to make to ensure the district maintained its required funding levels for special education, said Christine Shea, director of special education services.

Schools are required by federal law to provide the services built into students’ Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs. RSU 9 has just under 400 students with IEPs.

Shea said the original proposal of $33.6 million still would be difficult to work with — “We would be kind of up to our noses, but not underwater” — but the district would be in compliance with state and federal laws.

Working on shoestring budgets “frankly is really the way it goes in education,” she said.

The school board had proposed a $33.6 million budget initially, which Ward said would have decreased the tax assessment to all 10 towns in the district by about 2 percent. Three towns would still see tax increases, but that is due to changes in property valuations.

“We presented at the last annual budget meeting a very fair, reasonable budget in which we gave back all additional revenues to towns,” he said.

Shea said she plans to continue making presentations at meetings about the reasons costs are high.

While she said she understands the concerns about taxes and feels them too, she thinks some people don’t want to listen to what the school has to deal with.

“The most vocal ‘no’ voters that I know do not want any information. They reject anything that you say, and when you provide information, they call you a liar,” Shea said. “When the conversation becomes reduced to name calling, personal attacks and viciousness, it’s no longer about the facts, so the facts don’t help.”

Webster doesn’t know anyone opposed to paying teachers fairly or providing for children, he said, though “there are extremists on both sides.” He’s hoping that the district will try to change the tone of the conversation in this next round of negotiations.

“The community’s split and it would be nice if we could move forward,” he said. “Hopefully, we don’t have to have any other elections like this.”

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

mstamour@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @madelinestamour