OAKLAND — The Regional School Unit 18 board chipped away at the district’s budget in hopes they can come up with one that will be approved by the voters of the district’s five towns.

Nearly 100 people gathered at Messalonskee Middle School in Oakland Wednesday, many with opinions about what should be cut and what shouldn’t as the Board of Directors voted cuts to the $33,029,230 budget.

The meeting was the second in which the board made cuts after the budget was narrowly rejected by voters on June 12.

The budget rejected by voters included an increase of $1,054,819, or 3.3 percent, over the previous year. Board members Wednesday considered cutting up to $600,000 out of that amount to satisfy concerns about the impact on property taxes in the district’s five towns, Oakland, Belgrade, China, Sidney and Rome.

Board member Donna Doucette of Oakland said she was against changing the budget.

“I don’t think we should have any cuts, because cuts affect kids,” she said She blamed the rising local costs on reductions in state and federal funding, and suggested that efforts to contain costs would be better directed to those levels of government.

“We’re not hitting the right people,” she said.

Many members of the audience spoke in favor of restoring their favorite items, or to make more cuts to the proposed budget, as the board considered each of 23 possible cuts individually.

Board member Elwood Ellis said that the board was taking the wrong approach by voting on individual line items.

“It’s very wrong for us all to pick our favorite separate things and think we’re doing good for the children of this district.” he said. “It’s just crazy.”

The discussion went on for more than three hours as the board weighed the pros and cons of individual sections of the items on the table. There will be a district-wide budget meeting Thursday, July 26, and the budget will go before voters again in a Tuesday, Aug. 7, referendum.

For example, approximately $25,000 was cut for stipends that could include Freshman Academy, a literacy coordinator, lead secretary, intramurals, ninth grade sports, transportation and an extended day coordinator. A stipend for a music extracurricular stipend was restored after a plea from music teacher Andy Forster.

Additionally, stipends for the Builders Club, an I-team advisor, cross-country, golf and civil rights were cut at a savings of $6,997. Initially planned cuts to stipends for robotics and winter track teams were restored.

Member Kerri Olivier of Sidney championed the robotics program, which she said has a history of doing well in competitions.

“It is a proven track record that I think we need to give consideration to,” she said.

Sidney Selectman Kelly Couture, who was in attendance, said that the meeting revealed a “shameful” lack of knowledge on the part of the board members.

“It is shocking to me that the directors have so many questions about their own budget,” she said. “Supposedly, they have been building this budget for months.”

In a presentation to the board, Superintendent Gary Smith said that the tough budget years have produced a diversity of opinion.

“There are definitely many different perspectives on how to solve this challenge,” he said. “Our valuations have outpaced the state, and that has been a very important factor in our loss of funding.”

Board member Len LeGrand questioned a cut of $50,000 to a tuition reimbursement program for teachers.

“It would be unfair to go back to them,” he said.

Smith said that he had discussed the cuts with the teachers’ union, and he felt the contract could be honored with the cut.

The board approved several other cuts, including $95,000 to facilities maintenance projects.

The business office staff will be restructured at a savings of $20,000. Business manager Bobbi Avery said that she was willing to try the new staff configuration, but warned that she might return next year with a report that it doesn’t work.

Administrative raises were deferred, at a savings of $16,000; online course funding was reduced at a savings of $12,500; elementary guidance funding was reduced by $4,750 and staff training costs were reduced by $30,000, among other items.

Other cuts included a half-time position for a library ed tech, at a savings of $14,000. The change will not have an impact on current employees because of attrition.

Funding for library books was also reduced by $15,570.


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