OAKLAND — The RSU 18 school board will consider up to $565,000 in cuts to its 2015-16 budget after voters rejected its proposed spending plan in a referendum May 19.

The proposed cuts include eliminating teaching positions, funding for charter schools, support staff, sports programs, music offerings and transportation. The board asked Superintendent Gary Smith to bring it options for budget reductions following the vote. He presented his recommendations at a budget workshop Wednesday evening.

A $34.7 million budget was rejected 747-619 in the five-town school district that includes Oakland, China, Sidney, Belgrade and Rome. In Sidney, Belgrade and Rome town officials publicly opposed the budget because of the impact it would have on local property tax rates, and it was voted down in all three communities, but passed in Oakland and China.

The proposal represented a 2.77 percent increase over spending on the previous year. At the workshop Tuesday, Smith said the board would have to consider between $425,000 and $450,000 in cuts to bring the increase down to 1.35 percent, half the original proposal.

But it is still unclear how much the board will need to cut to pass the budget through a second referendum.

“I feel like it is important for us to get the support from our selectboards for this budget, and that we won’t pass it until we get that,” said School Board Chairwoman Laura Tracy, of Oakland.


Board members listened to more than two hours of comments from a crowd of teachers, residents, administrators and students that filled the cafeteria at Messalonskee Middle School on Wednesday. Many speakers, including John DeWitt, a father of three boys, one of whom is graduating from Messalonskee High School this month, voiced strong opposition to more cuts.

“Even if I didn’t have kids in this system, I would still be up here saying, ‘Don’t cut a damn thing out of this budget,'” DeWitt told the board, highlighting the district’s statewide reputation for academics and extracurricular activities.

“I’m not in favor of any cuts whatsoever, because the end result — the whole, rounded person that comes out of this system — is too important for us to start playing with numbers and dollars,” DeWitt said to a roar of applause from the crowd.

But others were critical of the price that taxpayers were being asked to pay to fund the budget.

Tim Russel, a Sidney selectman, said the district was basing its budget estimates on the previous year’s spending plan, not actual spending. He also took exception to the contracted wage increases for teachers, which makes up almost the entirety of the budget increase. The teacher’s contract includes a three percent raise for two out of the three years the agreement covers.

“My own personal opinion is that the board contracted with the teachers and staff for a 3 percent raise and now you’ve come to us to support that, but none of us, or very few of us, have gotten those kind of pay raises in these economic times,” Russel said.


“The budget should be cut across the board,” he said. “The board should not be able to choose winners and losers.”

Several at the meeting expressed fatigue with the budget validation process. This is the second time in three years that the RSU 18 budget has failed to pass voters. In 2012, it took three rounds of voting to pass a budget.

The reductions proposed by Smith and the administration are a mix of cuts to staff and programs.

One of the first cuts is roughly $115,000 in payments to charter schools which will be taken over by the state. Board members attempted to remove the funding at the budget meeting on May 7, but voters decided to keep it in to improve the district’s fund balance.

Other savings proposed by the administration include about $160,500 to eliminate three teaching positions, an estimated $78,000 to eliminate three bus runs in China, and $50,000 in savings to health insurance.

Administrator pay and support staff have smaller cuts. Smith is proposing a reduction in salary increase for administrators from 3 percent to 1.5 percent, bringing an English Language Arts position to half time, eliminating another position at Messalonskee Middle School, and deferring hiring a technology support specialist.


But the belief that cuts to the administration would solve the budget problems was “wishful thinking,” and if the budget failed again, it would quickly get into cutting programming, Smith said.

Some of the smallest recommended cuts include freshmen sports, primarily football, girls’ basketball, winter competition cheering and the pep band. Altogether, the cuts would save the district an estimated $16,500.

Other cuts could include music lessons and middle school drama, but they were not recommended by the administration, Smith said.

Jason Turner, a 17 year-old junior at Messalonskee High School, said he was disappointed to hear that music lessons were at risk. He told the crowd how he had started last year in the high school with poor grades and disciplinary issues, but getting involved in music through the school helped him to turn his life around.

“You said how outstanding the band was,” Turner told the board. “How do you think it got so outstanding?”

The board’s consideration of a pay-to-play fee for school extracurricular activities also drew criticism. Smith said a program could generate up to $70,000 in revenue a year, but the administration was not recommending it to the board.


Smith added that there was the possibility that the district could get more state funding, but that any additional money would go to support the district’s fund balance, which he considers too low.

RSU 18 has a fund balance of about $261,750, an amount that would not cover one pay period, according to Smith.

“It’s like having 27 cents in your checking account,” he said Wednesday.

The school board is expected to discuss the proposed cuts at its meeting Wednesday. A district-wide budget meeting is scheduled for June 18 and voters will return to the ballot box in a budget referendum June 30.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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