HALLOWELL — The Regional School Unit 2 school board has unanimously approved a budget of $24.4 million, which is $1.3 million or 5.6 percent higher than this year’s.

Because of a reduction in state subsidy, however, the amount to be paid by local taxpayers would increase by $1.7 million, or 13.8 percent. RSU 2’s projected state subsidy for next year is $10.4 million, leaving $14 million to be raised locally.

The major increases in costs include utilities, $100,000 to purchase laptops for students, $339,151 in teacher retirement contributions and about $250,000 from an 8 percent increase in health insurance premiums.

The budget referendum ballot in June will include an extra question to provide a mechanism for returning funds to RSU 2’s municipalities — Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell, Monmouth and Richmond — if Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to require school districts to pay a portion of teacher retirement contributions doesn’t make it through the Legislature.

Finance Committee Chairman Bill Matthews, a school board member from Dresden, said it’s unfair to shift state responsibilities, such as the retirement contributions, to the districts.

“I rue these large tax increases that we have been backed into,” Matthews said. “I think the state has done a very poor job of handling school funding this year.”

The board approved $336,722 in reductions, including the elimination of a building administrator in Monmouth, one teaching position each at Monmouth Middle School and Hall-Dale Elementary School, and a high school teaching position.

Superintendent Virgel Hammonds said the RSU will fund foreign language instruction at all district elementary schools, unlike last year when Farmingdale and Hallowell had to make extra tax payments to maintain the classes at Hall-Dale Elementary School.

The school board also explored whether the district could save money by outsourcing transportation for Monmouth and Richmond, but this week they rejected the only bid they received, from Northeast Charter & Tour Co. for $526,098.

Board Chairwoman Dawn Gallagher, of Hallowell, said outsourcing to Northeast would provide some savings, but not as much as expected, and the value was outweighed by public resistance.

“Folks are saying that in their communities they actually have a strong preference for bus drivers whom they have in their community, who are local and known,” Gallagher said.

Dresden, Hallowell and Farmingdale have used private busing for several years, and the board approved a $536,821 contract for Cyr Bus Lines to continue serving those communities.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]

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