UNITY — Next fall, kindergarteners through seniors will share bus rides in Regional School Unit 3.

Nine of the 10 directors at Monday night’s meeting at Unity Elementary School voted to switch from a double bus run that carried elementary school students separately from older students to a modified single run system.

“The board has given us a clear indication and now it’s up to us to implement a system,” said Superintendent Heather Perry.

“We won’t dismiss concerns of parents. We’ll look to use older students as mentors. It’s an opportunity to create a K through 12 transportation system that feeds a K through 12 educational system.”

Perry projected the move will save the district about $140,000 next year, which will help it plug a $1.45 million budget shortfall.

She said the district is losing a combined $750,000 from state and federal funding sources. In addition, she said the price tag to retain current staff and educational programs will be $19.9 million in 2012-13, an increase of $700,000 from $19.2 million in 2010-11.

School board directors said tough choices have to be made in the rural district that spans 11 towns and 440 square miles.

“Let’s give it a couple of years,” Knox Director Phil Shibles said of returning to a single run, which the district used since its formation until 1988.

“If we don’t try it, we’ll never know,” he said.

With a single bus run, the earliest that students will be picked up for school will change from 5:54 a.m. to 7 a.m., and maximum one-way rides will likely increase from 78 minutes to 80 minutes.

Montville Director Christine LeGore said she liked the fact that a single bus run would provide an extra 30 to 42 minutes of added instructional time each day for elementary students.

Thorndike Director Helen Sahadi said when she took a bus ride-along last week, the driver maneuvered miles along wretched roads to pick up one child during a high school and middle school run early in the morning, then did the same thing on the elementary school run.

“It seemed ludicrous to me,” she said. “I am not looking to balance the budget on the back of the bus drivers. I am trying to do what is best for 1,500 students.”

With a return to a single bus run, the 18 full-time bus drivers employed by the district will likely see their hours cut from about 35 per week to 22, producing $94,500 in savings.

In addition, with a single run, buses will travel 70,000 fewer miles per year, saving the district about $35,000 in fuel and $10,000 in maintenance costs.

Kathy Cunningham, director from Freedom, cast the lone dissenting vote.

“We say that it takes a village to raise a child, and the bus drivers are the first step in that each day,” Cunningham said.

After the vote, a contingent of bus drivers left the meeting.

Sahadi said that earlier Monday night the Finance Committee examined the possibility of trimming two elementary teaching positions, an instrumental music teaching post, an elementary principal and a host of other options to keep costs in check for taxpayers.

The board will continue to work on the budget at three upcoming workshops — March 21, March 28 and April 3, all at Mount View in room M111.

Perry said the goal is for the board to approve a proposed budget April 9.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the board approved 2012-13 contracts for three administrators, Mount High School Principal Cheri Towle, Director of Pupil Services Tamara Jetton and Transportation Director Raymond Shute.

All received 1 percent salary increases.

Towle will make $78,780, Jetton will earn $81,143 and Shute will receive $58,580.

Two resignations were announced — Meagen Leach from coaching softball at Mount View Middle School and Cara Merrill from teaching English language arts at Mount View Middle School.

Beth Staples — 861-9252

[email protected]