BELGRADE — The town’s selectpersons told RSU 18 School Superintendent Gary Smith they would not support the proposed 2015-2016 budget that calls for an increase in taxes.

“Based on the brief discussions this board has had, we are going to be very opposed to this budget,” Chairman Ernie Rice told Smith.

Then Richard LaBelle, second selectman from Rome, told Smith he did not anticipate the proposed school budget increase to be well received in Rome either.

Smith was at the Belgrade Selectboard meeting Tuesday night to present the proposed $34.7 million budget for the district that includes Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney.

The proposal reflects an increase of about a million over the current year’s $33.7 million budget.

In Belgrade, for instance, budget figures show the town would pay a total of $6 million of that, about $500,000 over the current year.


Along with that bad news, the superintendent faced close questioning from several Belgrade residents over enrollment figures, student performance and teacher salary increases.

Resident Bear Parker said, “It’s my tax money and it’s yours, and we’re talking about the school budget.”

Resident John D’Amico asked, “When can we ask these questions, especially in front of our elected officials?”

Smith said if he was aware of the nature of the questions being asked at the meeting, he would have been better prepared. “I think I was ambushed tonight,” he told selectmen.

Rice told him that was not the board’s intent. “We’re trying to make sure you have a true feeling of the frustration in town of the people we represent.”

Belgrade Selectman Rick Damren said those questions would be better asked at the public hearing on the budget for Belgrade and Rome residents set for 6 p.m. April 15 at Belgrade Central School. The proposed budget and schedule of hearings is on the district’s website at


Howard Holinger, chairman of the town’s Budget Committee, said he calculated that the town is paying about $17,600 for each of the 537 students the town sends to the district schools. Holinger asked, “How is staying in the RSU 18 program that you’re running a good deal for Belgrade?”

Smith told him that Maine has specific guidelines to follow if Belgrade wanted to exit the district.

Smith also said the district is looking at declining enrollment over the next decade, reductions in state funding and a need to do capital improvements to aging buildings.

“The budgets being put together right now are not what they need to be to take care of our facilities,” he said.

The same presentation to the Oakland Town Council earlier Tuesday afternoon generated few questions, but Town Manager Gary Bowman expressed his gratitude for the school board’s efforts to keep the budget down. The 2.77 percent increase was “about as close to a flat budget as you can get without having a flat budget,” Bowman said.

Considering the budget struggles that both towns and the school district are facing, Bowman said, it made sense for the two to cooperate on finding ways to reduce costs.


“It’s a balancing act for all of us,” Bowman said. “We should certainly be playing on the same team.”

Councilor Dana Wrigley questioned what the fiscal impact on the district of complying with increasing state and federally-mandated regulations would be.

“Every year, when they are giving us less money, they are giving us more unfunded mandates to do,” Wrigley said.

Mandates have an effect on the district’s operating costs, but the district has not run an analysis on the impact it had on the annual budget, Smith said.

Staff Writer Peter McGuire contributed to this story.

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