OAKLAND — In a split 5-3 vote, the school board for Regional School Unit 18 decided Wednesday night that voters should not have the power to change the amount of a proposed district budget at an upcoming public meeting.

Supporters of the measure said that closing the warrants makes it more likely that the flat budget of $31,972,592 will make it to a final referendum before the voting public in the district’s towns of Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney.

Because of the vote, the district budget meeting, scheduled for Sept. 20 at the Performing Arts Center in Messalonskee High School, will have closed warrant articles, which means that voters in attendance will be able to approve or reject, but not adjust, the dollar amounts in the articles.

Those who supported the measure, including Superintendent Gary Smith, expressed concern that open warrant articles could extend the budget process further.

“This may not be the budget that we’d really like to see, but I think it’s what’s going to pass,” Smith said.

Board Chairman Elwood Ellis said district budget meeting attendees disproportionately favor a higher school budget. He suggested that having an open warrant could lead to a scenario in which the budget would be increased at the meeting only to fail for the third time at the polls.

Ellis and board members Charley Clark, Kerri Olivier, Dodie Leighton, and Len LeGrand voted in favor of the closed warrants; while Donna Doucette, Becky Seel, and Cathy McKelway voted against them.

Doucette said the flat budget, which was approved by the school board unanimously in August, was harmful for education.

“I think it’s a sin, what we’ve done,” she said, “but I guess we had to do it.”

Because the votes of school board members are proportionally weighted according to the number of voters in their respective towns, there was a short discussion about whether the closed warrant vote had actually passed. It was determined that it had, by a vote of 506-279.

Because of decreases in federal revenue and increases in fixed costs, the flat budget was achieved only by tapping the school’s reserve for $1.45 million and making a variety of cuts.

Cuts include $95,000 in building maintenance projects, $35,000 in a bus replacement plan, $75,000 in technology equipment, $78,000 in professional development and $354,223 in salary and benefits reductions, an item that includes a voluntary $225 pay cut from each teacher and administrator.

A tuition reimbursement program for teachers, classroom technology replacements and heating fuel accounts were also cut $50,000 apiece.

Because of the cuts, field trips were restricted to one per class, within a 25-mile radius; and preseason sports trips were eliminated.

At the district budget meeting, the school budget will be presented in 17 articles, broken down into categories such as special education, transportation, and regular instruction.

When the district first presented a $33 million budget, about 75 voters approved it at a May 23 district budget meeting.

After that budget failed, more than 300 voters approved a $32.6 million budget at the next budget meeting, on July 27, despite efforts of a group of voters to reduce the amount of each article.

If voters approve the flat budget at the Sept. 20 district budget meeting, it will be sent to voters at the polls in a districtwide referendum Oct. 2.

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