SOMERVILLE — A Regional School Unit 12 committee is proposing that the district reduce spending and use late-arriving state aid to make its budget easier on taxpayers.

Following the defeat of the previous budget at public referendum last week, the Finance Committee is sending the RSU 12 school board a $26.4 million budget to consider at its July 11 meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Palermo Consolidated School.

The new budget is $116,000 lower than the one voters rejected 468–409 last week. It increases spending by $629,559, or 2.4 percent, from the budget total for the year that just ended.

The state budget passed last week provides RSU 12 with $328,659 more in state subsidy than district leaders anticipated when preparing their first budget. While school districts that already had budgets in place by the time the state budget was set are limited in their ability to use the additional state subsidy, RSU 12 can apply it toward the 2013-14 budget.

Given the reduced spending and the additional state subsidy, the amount to be paid by RSU 12 taxpayers would fall by $444,660. The local assessment is still projected to increase 4.6 percent, but that’s less than the 7.7 percent anticipated in the budget’s first version.

Superintendent Howard Tuttle said the Finance Committee found savings of $150,000 in tuition for students attending Capital Area Technical Center in Augusta. The previous budget proposal did not account for a change in state funding that sends the tuition directly to career and technical education centers rather than routing it through local school districts. The change does not affect the ability of RSU 12 students to attend CATC.

The committee also proposed reversing two cuts already approved by the school board: $15,000 for supplies and $19,000 for general music classes for middle school-age students at Whitefield Elementary.

Committee members thought cuts had gone too far in those areas, Tuttle said.

The first budget proposal would have raised taxes in seven of eight towns — all but Westport Island, including increases of double-digit percentages in Palermo, Somerville and Windsor — because of the new cost allocation method approved by voters in November.

The new cost allocation charges each town the same cost per student, which will increase the share of the district budget paid by northern towns that have contributed less per student since RSU 12 formed in 2009, while decreasing the share paid by the southern towns.

That cost shift is reflected in the referendum results from Friday. The budget was approved by 80 percent of voters in Alna, 73 percent in Westport Island and 56 percent in Wiscasset. It was rejected by 78 percent of voters in Chelsea, 80 percent in Palermo, 83 percent in Somerville, 51 percent in Whitefield and 75 percent in Windsor.

The RSU 12 school board added an extra question to gauge voter reaction to the overall spending number, in case the budget failed and needed to be reworked. Sixty-five percent of voters said it was “too high,” 11 percent said “too low,” and 24 percent said “just right.” In all eight towns, a plurality of voters said the budget was too high.

There were 480 votes for “too high,” but only 468 “no” votes on the budget itself, so some apparently voted for it despite thinking the RSU was spending too much.

The Finance Committee is proposing an Aug. 13 regional budget meeting on the school board-approved budget and a Sept. 10 referendum. Until a budget is approved by voters, the district is operating under the 2012-13 budget.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]

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