OAKLAND — Even though school officials recently trimmed $430,000, Belgrade and Sidney town officials are pushing for more cuts at Thursday night’s regional budget meeting for Regional School Unit 18.

The RSU 18 school board reduced expenses by $430,000 from the budget rejected at referendum in June, for a budget of $32.6 million, an increase of 2 percent from last year’s.

Voters at Thursday’s meeting, which will start at 6 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center of Messalonskee High School, will have the chance to increase or decrease spending before sending the budget to a second referendum vote Aug. 7. The district consists of Oakland, Sidney, China, Belgrade and Rome.

Superintendent Gary Smith said the budget has attracted an unusual amount of attention since being rejected last month, and he expects at least 300 people to attend the meeting.

Meanwhile, Belgrade selectmen have joined their counterparts from Sidney in publicly opposing the district budget even after additional cuts were made. All five Belgrade selectmen signed a letter, nearly identical to one signed by Sidney selectmen, stating that the RSU 18 school board did not cut enough.

“They have come up with a proposal of less than $500,000 in cuts, and we’re asking for more,” Belgrade Selectperson Penny Morrell said Tuesday. “There are 11 articles in the warrant, and we’re going to try to make them reduce the amount of each of those warrants.”

Sidney and Belgrade selectmen say they think voters would support a budget of about $32 million, the same as last year’s spending plan.

The district spent $1.1 million less than that, in part because of a spending freeze enacted in midyear, when officials realized that revenue would be lower than previously expected.

“We respectfully request that you take another look at the increases and cut the unnecessary expenditures further, so there is not a $1.1 million carryover like from last year’s budget,” the Belgrade letter states.

Smith said the spending freeze required deferring maintenance, reducing training for teachers and canceling field trips, so getting by with the same budget would be difficult.

Under the budget, the district’s employees also would receive a 2 percent raise this year.

Smith said he is not sure how RSU 18 would be affected if voters approve a flat-funded budget.

“I would have to meet with the board and get some direction. I just don’t know where we could go,” he said. “We’ve worked to gather some general principles about class sizes and things in our district that we try to manage close to. It would mean we’d have to look at some of those things.”

The Belgrade letter claims that the $32.6 million budget would increase Belgrade taxes by $120 per $100,000 of property valuation. Smith, however, said that estimate is misleading because it is calculated based on a tax rate lower than what residents actually pay now. Even though the school district spent $1.1 million less than what last year’s budget totaled, the tax rates are tied to approved budgets, not actual expenses.

According to district figures, the budget approved by the school board would raise taxes per $100,000 of valuation by $35 in Belgrade, $39 in China, $57 in Oakland and $22 in Sidney. Taxes in Rome would decrease by $23 per $100,000 because of a change in property valuations.

Officials in the other towns served by the district have not taken a public position on the school board’s budget.

Majorities of voters in Oakland and Sidney rejected the first budget in June. It failed by a total vote of 1,209-1,171.

Meanwhile, the town of Oakland has scheduled a special town meeting for 5:45 p.m. at the same location to change the tax due date from Aug. 17 to Sept. 14 in order to accommodate the delay in the school budget’s approval.

Morrell said she believes the Belgrade Board of Selectmen’s stance could boost engagement and sway voters.

“I think it’ll encourage others who feel defeated by the size of government, and feel there’s nothing they can do, to take a second look,” Morrell said. “There is something we can do. It takes energy and it takes work, but we can help lower taxes.”

Smith said he hopes the district can get the budget set soon so they can move onto other matters.

“Ultimately, all of us are trying to do the right thing for our children and students of RSU 18, and in the end, we need to make it work,” Smith said. “I look forward to being past this point and working for the education of all kids in RSU 18.”

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