BY MATT HONGOLTZ-HETLING
Staff Writer

FAIRFIELD — Voters in three of four towns approved a proposed $24.8 million budget for the School Administrative District 49, administrators reported Wednesday morning.

The proposed budget was not approved by voters in Fairfield, where it was publicly opposed by the town council, but the margin of victory was large enough in the district’s other towns of Albion, Benton and Clinton to ensure passage.

Districtwide, the budget was approved 587-432.

The turnout of 1,019 in all four towns was sharply down from last year’s turnout of 1,680, when there were also candidates for the state Legislature on the ballot.

The proposed budget of $24,777,600 represented an increase of 4.35 percent, or a little more than $1 million, over last year’s budget of $23,744,882.

School district leaders have said that the increase is largely due to cost shifts from the state onto the district, and badly needed building repairs, which they say will cost more if they are delayed for another year.

In Fairfield, the budget was rejected 185-141, according to Jeanine Brown, assistant to Superintendent Dean Baker.

In Albion, the budget was approved 70-25; in Benton approved 78-62; and in Clinton approved 298-160.

While the polls closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday evening, the district did not receive the results from individual towns and report them until Wednesday morning.

Fairfield’s Town Council publicly opposed the budget with a letter and a resolution last week, in which they urged voters to vote no. Council members said the district’s budget would increase the burden on local property taxpayers by $191,000, which they said was too much, and they called on school district administrators to ease the burden by finding creative ways to cut the budget.

Baker and school board Chairman Steve Grenier have said that further cuts to the budget, which already contains the elimination of five and a half teaching positions, would reduce the quality of education for students.

Grenier said the district has lost $181,000 in federal Title 1 funding.

Baker said the state’s education funding formula has forced an increase of $330,000 in local tax assessments in order for the district to continue to qualify for state aid. In addition, Gov. Paul LePage has proposed shifting about $300,000 in teacher retirement costs onto the district.

The proposed budget assumes that the teacher retirement cost shift will be approved by the Legislature this summer; if it does not, the money would be used to offset next year’s budget.

This year, 57.6 percent of district voters approved the budget; down from 62.3 percent last year.

Last year, the school budget was approved by a vote of 1,047 to 632, including in Fairfield, where it passed 376-247. Last year the budget passed in Albion 105-56; in Benton 184-104; and in Clinton 381-225.

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

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