OAKLAND — The latest projections for the Regional School Unit 18 budget are a little less gruesome than the ones used a month ago, according to district administrators.

A combination of flat health insurance rates and an improved state funding picture could ease the pressures on the budget slightly, Superintendent Gary Smith told the RSU board during a Wednesday evening meeting.

The district had been prepared for a 13 percent increase in health insurance rates, so a flat rate accounted for $461,000 in savings compared to that scenario.

In addition, state funding will be reduced by $900,000 over last year, not the $1.1 million that was estimated previously.

Because of the changes, which Smith said totaled more than $600,000 in the district’s favor, he is recommending a total school budget of $32,281,753.

If approved, the budget would represent an increase of about 1 percent over last year’s budget of $31,972,592.

The budget still contains cuts to several programs and a tax increase for area towns, but neither cuts nor tax increases will be as severe as thought previously.

Smith said he was recommending that about half of the $600,000 in savings be used to restore items to the budget that had been cut, while half be used to lessen the effect on taxpayers.

Items Smith recommended be restored to the budget included funding for a librarian and an education technician at China Elementary School. Other items restored to the budget were $15,000 in library books, $15,000 in instruction books, a middle school teaching position, an elementary school teacher position, a Title I teacher and a Title I education technician.

Other restorations to the budget included $25,000 to athletics, half of a custodial position, half of a maintenance position, and 80 percent of a music position that had been designated for elimination.

In response to a question, Smith said he didn’t yet have numbers that would describe the effect of a 1 percent increase on local property tax assessments, because some of the numbers had come in just hours earlier.

Board member Kerri Oliver said she was concerned about the budget that Smith had presented in March but felt better about the current one.

“I feel more comfortable that we’re not stepping backward,” she said.

Smith said that there are still questions about state funding levels and whether $425,000 in teacher retirement costs will be shifted onto the school system by the state.

The district serves students from Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
[email protected]

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