OAKLAND — The RSU 18 administration is asking for $34.8 million in spending for fiscal year 2016, the largest spending plan since the school unit was established in 2009.

The proposal reflects an increase of more than $1.1 million over the current year’s $33.7 million budget.

RSU 18 includes the towns of Oakland, China, Belgrade, Rome and Sidney. Because of a projected decrease in state education aid to the district, about half of that will be borne by property taxpayers in the five towns.

According to Superintendent Gary Smith, the budget increase is being driven by negotiated staff raises, increases in health and dental insurance, higher salaries for substitute teachers, more tuition money for China students, and an increase in the amount the district is required to contribute to state retirement.

In a March 1 letter to school board members, Smith stated that the school district has worked to limit spending, even as the cost of supporting education has increasingly shifted onto local taxpayers.

The current budget, he pointed out, is still almost $68,000 less than the spending approved when the district was formed in 2009.

“A message that I will be sharing with you and the public during this budget season is that a flat spending model is not sustainable long term,” Smith wrote to board members.

Despite the higher costs, the spending plan was “the tightest budget” being proposed since he became superintendent, Smith noted in his letter.

“We’re trying to balance community concerns about the tax rate, making sure we meet the needs of our young learners and have the best staff,” Smith said in an interview last week. “Those priorities don’t always line up together.”

The district projects that state aid to local districts through the state’s essential programs and services funding formula will decrease in the coming year, meaning that RSU 18 will receive almost $574,700 less from the state than it did last year.

At the same time, the total that communities in RSU 18 are required to pay to support education is expected to increase, Smith said. According to the preliminary budget, the five towns will need to contribute $628,450 more than in 2014-2015. Fully half of the district’s spending, some $17 million, will come from property taxes, according to the budget projections.

Because of the changes that are likely to be made to the budget between now and when the towns vote on it in May, Smith declined to speculate on how the budget would impact local property taxes, but stated that local taxpayers would be asked to pay more.

“It’s going to require more money locally,” he said. “We just don’t have a good handle on how much yet.”

More than 75 percent of the budget request, about $1.01 million, is driven by increases in salary and benefits for staff. Almost half of that increase, $537,080, is in teacher salaries, but pay for administrators and support staff are also increased.

The budget also includes about $45,540 more for substitute teacher pay, according to the budget. The administration added the money in order to remain competitive with neighboring school districts, according to Smith.

The budget also includes almost $175,000 more for health and dental insurance costs and nearly $119,000 in contributions to the Maine State Retirement system required by the state.

The school district also projects an increase in the cost of tuition for some students from China, who are given a choice and can attend schools outside the district. The district expects to spend at least $74,300 on tuition for China students next year.

The proposed budget was presented to the school board at a March 4 meeting, and officials plan to hold workshops on the plan between March 16 and 18.

Public hearings on the budget will be held April 13-16 in Oakland, Sidney, Belgrade and China with a district-wide budget meeting on May 7. Voters will head to the polls for a budget referendum on May 19.

Three years ago, voters in the five towns rejected the proposed budget two times before finally approving it in October, five months after it was proposed.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire


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