Budgets in two local school districts are ready to go to voters for a final decision in the next two weeks.

Proposed amendments were defeated at regional budget meetings for Gardiner-based Regional School Unit 11 and Readfield-based Regional School Unit 38, so those budgets will appear on ballots exactly as approved by the respective school boards.

At RSU 11’s referendum on Tuesday, voters will decide the fate of a $21.5 million budget that’s 0.35 percent higher than this year’s budget.

Superintendent Pat Hopkins said there were separate motions at the regional budget meeting to add $2,000 to restore lights and security for Friday night football games and $75,000 to restore the position of principal at T.C. Hamlin School in Randolph.

Both amendments failed, so Gardiner Area High School’s home football games will be played on Saturday afternoons unless another source of funding can be found, and a T.C. Hamlin teacher will be paid a stipend to take on administrative duties.

If voters approve the budget, the amount of revenue raised through local taxes will rise 3.4 percent. Based on changes to the state valuation in each town, the local assessment will fall by 0.1 percent in Gardiner and rise in the other three towns, by 1.6 percent in Pittston, 8.7 percent in Randolph and 7.7 percent in West Gardiner.

For a property assessed at $150,000, that translates to an annual property tax savings of $1.28 in Gardiner and higher taxes in the other towns — a $23.95 increase in Pittston, $122.22 in Randolph and $99.90 in West Gardiner.

RSU 11 had low attendance for its budget meeting, but Hopkins said she hopes the larger communities also will support the budget because of district leaders’ efforts to minimize tax hikes.

“We’re at bare bones,” Hopkins said. “We have continued to cut over the last couple of years, and we feel that this budget will meet our needs going forward.”

On June 11, voters in RSU 38 will have the final say on a budget that increases spending by 3.1 percent, to $15.7 million.

The regional budget meeting garnered higher-than-usual attendance, with at least 368 voters.

Three articles generated enough division that they were too close for a voice vote, but ultimately they were approved unchanged. They were articles 2 and 3, which consist mostly of teacher salaries and benefits; and article 16, which authorizes the school district to raise more in local taxes than required by the state.

Superintendent Donna Wolfrom said voters rejected a proposed amendment to cut $100,000 from article 6. The person who made the motion wanted to target the purchase of iPad computers through the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, she said.

The budget meeting went late, and Wolfrom said many people expressed concerns about the 14.5 percent increase in the total local assessment for the district.

“I think people are just frustrated in all the local responsibilities that they’ve had to assume because of the changes in Augusta,” she said.

RSU 38’s state subsidy is expected to fall by 14.7 percent, and if the district is required to pay a portion of teacher retirement costs, as is proposed for all districts, it will cost about $206,000.

If voters approve the budget, the local assessment will increase by 15.2 percent in Manchester, 16.2 percent in Mount Vernon, 14.6 percent in Readfield and 10.1 percent in Wayne. That translates to tax increases for the owner of a $150,000 home of $268 in Manchester, $284 in Mount Vernon, $290 in Readfield and $159 in Wayne.

The projected tax hikes have spurred a semi-organized opposition in the district. A group of residents has posted signs along roadways, urging voters to reject the budget.

Readfield resident David Hepfner said he is not part of that group but has conferred with them and agrees with some of their concerns.

Hepfner said he thinks school officials could have cut more and wants them to negotiate a pay freeze or higher employee contributions to health insurance in the next contract. The board ratified a contract with the Maranacook Area Staff Association in March that included raises and no change to health insurance, but it expires at the end of August.

“I think their attitude about it’s all the state’s problem because the state’s in this funding situation, it doesn’t work, because there are school districts that are making the kinds of cuts that are needed,” Hepfner said. “I think the people on the school board are doing what they think is right, but we’re looking at a substantial property tax increase.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]

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