HALLOWELL — Regional School Unit 2 officials want to know whether district residents will tolerate a tax increase and what programs to protect as they seek to close a $1.4 million budget gap.

The meetings in which RSU 2’s finance committee and school board hammer out the budget always have been open to the public, but they have not offered or attracted much public participation.

This year, three meetings have been scheduled for the sole purpose of presenting information and gathering community input before a budget is crafted.

“In the past, the board would come to a preliminary or final decision on where we would come in with a budget, and we would conduct public forums,” finance committee chairman Jim Grandahl said. “But the board had already voted on the budget. So there’s a feeling of, ‘Yes, you’re sitting in front of me, and you’re listening to what I’m saying; but it doesn’t matter, because you’ve already voted.’”

This year, finance committee members and administrators have discussed ways the district could save money, but Grandahl said no decisions have been made.

The public meetings will take place at Monmouth Academy on Monday, Richmond High School on Tuesday and Hall-Dale High School on Thursday, April 12. All are scheduled for 6 p.m.

Superintendent Virgel Hammonds said district officials will give a brief presentation on the state and federal funding cuts that led to the $1.4 million budget hole.

They also will be prepared with information about enrollment changes and anticipated retirements in each community or school, which could guide discussion about what cuts would be appropriate in specific places, Hammonds said.

He said district officials want to hear which programs are most important to people in each community.

“What do they feel is absolutely valuable and should not be considered when looking at potential reductions?” Hammonds said. After the meetings, the finance committee will prepare a budget to present to the school board the first week of May. The public referendum will take place June 12.

In last year’s referendum, Monmouth and Richmond voted against the budget; but support in Dresden, Farmingdale and Hallowell was strong enough to pass it.

In Monmouth and Richmond, residents have voiced complaints about a lack of local control over their schools.Grandahl said that if people understand and contribute to the deliberations that go into budget decisions, that could make them more inclined to vote for the budget.

He added, however, that it’s simply “a numbers game” for some people.

“The decision on supporting the school budget, with a large segment of the population, has nothing to do with what’s in the budget and everything to do with whether their taxes go up or down,” Grandahl said. “And you can’t argue with that. We all know what economic times we’re in.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]

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