FAIRFIELD — Voters in three of four towns approved a proposed $24.8 million budget for School Administrative District 49, enough for the $24.7 million budget to pass.

The budget was not approved by voters in Fairfield, where it was 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 pass.

Districtwide, the budget was approved 587-432.

The overall turnout of 1,019 was 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 is an increase of 4.35 percent, or a little more than $1 million, over last year’s $23,744,882.

School district leaders have said that the increase is largely because of cost shifts from the state to 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 185-14.

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

This year, the budget passed with 57.6 percent of the vote. Last year, the budget passed with 62.3 percent of the vote.

Fairfield’s Town Council last week urged residents to vote against the budget. Council members said the district’s budget would increase the property tax for the town by $191,000, which the council said was too much. Members called on school district administrators to find creative ways to cut the budget.

Superintendent Dean Baker and school board Chairman Steve Grenier have said that further cuts to the budget, which already eliminates 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 I 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.

Fairfield council Chairwoman Tracey Stevens said district staff could do a better job of publicizing meetings related to its budget process using its website and local media.

“I think there needs to be a little bit more transparency,” she said.

Stevens encouraged residents with concerns about the school budget to get more involved in the process by taking part in the budget committee.

Last year, the school budget was approved 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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