FARMINGTON — After residents of the 10 towns comprising Regional School Unit 9 voted down the proposed school budget for the third time, the School Board voted to hold its next budget referendum on Oct. 24.

The $32.7 million budget, which represented nearly $1 million in spending cuts, was voted down Tuesday, with 1,608 residents voting “yes” and 2,938 voting “no.” However, since that budget was approved at the districtwide budget meeting, it will be in force at least until the next budget meeting, which the board scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 11.

The board met Thursday to set those dates and hear public comment, and it plans to meet again Tuesday to hear additional public comment on budgetary issues. Superintendent of Schools Thomas Ward said the board is scheduled to vote to send the budget to the budget meeting either that day or on Sept. 21 if the board needs more time.

Discussions and voting on the budget have been contentious most of the way, as evidenced by residents decisively defeating the budget by more than 1,300 votes in the latest balloting. The defeated budget reflected a decrease of $980,197, the majority of which would come from special education funding.

At the conclusion of the meeting, at which more than a dozen residents spoke, Ward, a graduate of the school system himself, said “it tears me apart” to see the district so divided over the annual school budget. He said he was proud of the turnout for the vote Tuesday, no matter how residents voted on the issue.

“We know we can be an outstanding school district,” Ward said at the Thursday meeting. “We’ve been one in the past and will be one in the future.”

He said at the annual budget meeting he expected everyone to be respectful of all opinions.

“It’s time to heal, and we started to heal tonight,” he said.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

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Twitter: @colinoellis