The Regional School Unit 18 school board will try to interpret what the rejection of the district’s school budget — for the second time — by voters means, and where to take the budget from here when it meets tonight.

The meeting is at 6 in the China Primary School cafeteria.

Superintendent Gary Smith said he will look to the board for direction in putting together a new budget proposal.

Voters in the district’s towns of Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney rejected a $33 million budget on June 12 and a revised $32.6 million budget last week.

The boards of selectmen in Belgrade and Sidney have approved letters calling for a district budget of $31,974,420, which has no increase from the previous one, citing concern about a tax hike on local property owners.

Smith said that he thinks that the school board will likely seek a flat budget, but added “This round of $600,000 in cuts is going to be harder.”

This time around, Smith said, school officials will communicate directly with selectmen and council members.

“If we do bring in a flat budget, might they be supportive? Or would they still lobby in the negative?” he said.

Because of state funding formulas, a flat budget won’t necessarily result in flat tax bills for residents in the five towns.

“If we assessed the same amount this year as we did last year, taxes in Oakland, Belgrade and China would probably go up somewhat” while taxes in Sidney and Rome would go down, according to Smith.

During the most recent round of cuts, school board members spent a significant amount of time debating the merits of individual line items in Smith’s proposed cuts.

“They don’t know the real fine nuts and bolts of running of the schools, so how one cut might impact the school more than the other can be difficult to communicate in that setting,” Smith said.

Smith said that he would favor a less detailed approach to the recommended line items in the next round of cuts.

“I think it was challenging for them to deal with that one by one,” he said. “I’d rather bring them a budget that is pretty much taxation-flat to the RSU 18 communities and explain to them how they got there.”

Smith said that, if the board would like to consider different budget sizes, he would prefer to generate different scenarios for members to choose from.

The board will also have the chance to establish a timeline for the new budget. After the first defeat in June, it took about two months for the board to bring a revised budget back to the voters.

Smith said that he would hope for a speedier process this time.

“We’re right up against the start of school,” he said.

The added work on the budget has been competing for the time of administrators who would ordinarily be preparing for the upcoming school year.

Smith said that, if the budget-approval process was to stretch into November, it would run into the beginning stages of planning for the following year’s budget. That’s a scenario Smith would like to avoid.

Until a permanent budget is approved by voters, the district will operate under the $32.6 million version that was most recently approved.

Smith said that he has ordered department heads to act conservatively while waiting for a final number to be approved.

The board will also deal with various other items of business during tonight’s meeting, including hearing an update on student enrollment and a review of staff vacancies within the district.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287

[email protected]

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