SOMERVILLE — Residents of Regional School Unit 12 will vote Tuesday on a $26.4 million school budget that would cut the central office staff, reduce athletic spending and defer maintenance projects.

Despite the cuts, the proposed budget is $629,560, or 2.4 percent, higher than the one approved last year. The amount to be paid in local taxes is 4.6 percent higher, with wide variations amongn towns because of a new cost-sharing method.

The increase in spending, school board Chairwoman Hilary Holm said, is largley due to the need to hire more special education staff, new staff contracts that started last year and the requirement that school districts pay a portion of teacher retirement costs, which had been the state’s responsibility.

RSU 12 voters rejected the district’s first proposed budget, which was slightly higher at $26.5 million, by a vote of 468-409 on June 28.

“Last time, we only had 5 percent of the voters weigh in, and we’d really like to hear more voices,” Superintendent Howard Tuttle said. “It failed by 60 votes last time, and we’d really like to see a lot more participation in the vote.”

Without a 2013-14 budget in place when classes started on Tuesday, RSU 12 ordered only supplies that were absolutely needed and has a hiring freeze in place. Tuttle said about four support staff vacancies haven’t been filled.

Tuttle said the school board tried to reduce the effect of budget cuts on programs for students.

“Even though there were reductions all around, we trimmed central office and administration pretty significantly,” he said.

The central office lost 1.5 secretarial positions and an assistant special education director, while the food service director was cut by one-quarter time and the assistant superintendent from full time to half time.

Other personnel reductions around the district include 3.5 educational technicians, 6.1 teachers, a social worker, a half-time assistant principal and a half-time science coach.

Middle school foreign language, something Tuttle said was available in three schools, will be eliminated.

The school board chose to defer $146,000 in maintenance projects and reduce spending on athletics and co-curricular activities by $80,000.

The school board had considered instituting a participation fee for sports or other activities to offset some of the cuts in spending, but Tuttle said it would not have raised much and would have been difficult to collect.

Instead, district officials still are looking for ways to reduce spending in that area. Holm said they can cut coaching stipends that have been budgeted for sports that don’t exist anymore, such as middle school baseball and softball. They also may eliminate busing home from away games, which few students use.

Holm said the proposed budget is fiscally responsible but provides only the minimum of what students should have.

“That’s something we have to be worried about, because if we’re not attractive schools, we’re not going to get families moving into our towns and keeping our schools filled,” she said.

Holm said it could be a particular problem for RSU 12’s only high school. Relatively few of the students who live in the geographically sprawling district attend Wiscasset High School. Keeping more of those students in the district or attracting more from neighboring communities would help RSU 12 bring in more tuition money instead of sending it elsewhere.

The proposed budget would decrease the local contribution by 5.3 percent in Westport Island, while raising it by 2.5 percent in Alna, 4.5 percent in Chelsea, 12.6 percent in Palermo, 8.6 percent in Somerville, 5.5 percent in Whitefield, 16.4 percent in Windsor and 1.1 percent in Wiscasset.

For a $100,000 home, that translates to a tax decrease of $28 in Westport Island and tax increases of $28 in Alna, $58 in Chelsea, $95 in Palermo, $66 in Somerville, $59 in Whitefield, $139 in Windsor and $12 in Wiscasset.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]

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