OAKLAND — The RSU 18 school board voted unanimously to approve warrant articles for the district budget meeting scheduled for June 18 at a special board meeting Monday.

The proposed $34.4 million budget is roughly 1.9 percent larger than this year’s spending plan. The $34.7 million budget originally proposed by the board was rejected by voters in a May 18 referendum. RSU 18 includes the towns of Oakland, China, Rome, Sidney and Belgrade.

Last week, board members voted to cut $292,671 from general education funding that included $115,000 in payments to charter schools, a $50,000 cut to health insurance costs and the elimination of two bus runs in China for a savings of $50,000. The board also eliminated a teaching position at Messalonskee Middle School and an English Language assistant at Messalonskee High School. The board also cut $5,000 from its adult education budget.

But at a public information session at Messalonskee Middle School Monday night, some voters expressed continued frustration with the proposed budget.

Tim Russell, a Sidney Selectman who has frequently spoken against district spending, said the budget would translate to a 10.4 percent increase in education spending for his town.

The board did not match reductions in revenue with comparable spending limits and instead came to local taxpayers for more support, Russell said.


“I am asking you and imploring you,” Russell said, “you can’t keep on passing it onto the taxpayer. It’s that simple.”

Craig Sturtevant, a resident of Oakland, made a similar complaint, saying that he was frustrated with budget increases and what he saw as a lack of transparency from school officials.

“This is what’s bothering us. You keep on going to the taxpayers,” Sturtevant said.

Board members, however, defended their work on the budget, stating that they had worked hard to balance necessary education funding with taxpayer concerns.

Board Chairwoman Laura Tracy, of Oakland, said she took exception with the suggestion that the board automatically went to property tax payers to pay for its expenses.

“We don’t just say ‘the towns can afford it.’ We walk a fine line” between the needed funding for education and the impact on property owners in the district, Tracy said.


Mary-Anne LaMarre, a board member from Oakland, encouraged people to begin participating in the process when the board starts formulating its budget in the early spring. “We do the absolute best we can, but we can only do with what you give us.”

“I would hate for you to leave this meeting thinking we’re not doing everything in our power to keep costs in line while the state reduced the amount of funding directed to the district,” LaMarre said to Sturtevant.

Superintendent Gary Smith said that in the past five years, the district had lost between 55 and 65 teaching positions as it tried to balance declining state revenue and class sizes.

At the same time, the district has to deal with its inadequate undesignated fund of less than $270,000. The district’s auditors, banking institutions and lawyers have warned that holding that little in reserve is “very risky.” Smith said.

He also disputed the claim that school officials were not coming up with creative solutions, like changing grade configurations or moving students and employees into different buildings.

The district has proposed solutions like those before, but the question was whether it was “palatable” to district parents, Smith said.


Ellwood Ellis, the board’s vice chairman from China, agreed, referencing the push back the board got when it suggested moving a fifth grade into the middle school several years ago.

“Thinking outside the box is not enough. You have to think outside the box and then bring all the parents with you,” Ellis said. “That’s a different challenge.”

Sherry Gilbert, of Oakland, questioned why the board voted to keep wage raises for administrators at 3 percent after Superintendent Smith recommended that the raises be reduced to 1.5 percent.

The savings would have been roughly $19,100. In exchange, the board cut a teaching position at the middle school, a nearly $26,000 savings.

Administrators that are paid up to $90,000 a year “don’t need that amount of money” in raises, Gilbert said.

Defending the board’s decision, LaMarre said that the district needed to pay competitive salaries in order to keep talented administrators.


“We have a phenomenal school district because we have phenomenal administrators,” LeMarre said.

Although board members have been receiving numerous emails from people stating their support for the budget and opposition to more cuts, Bess Stokes, of Oakland, offered the only unequivocal support for the budget Monday night.

Many other supporters could not make it to the meeting because they were at home with their children, but social media was “buzzing” about the budget, said Stokes, a mother of two girls who attend district schools.

“There are a lot of us out there who support you passionately and fervently, and we are working to mobilize,” Stokes said.

Voters will have an opportunity to increase or decrease the budget warrant items at the June 18 budget meeting. The budget adopted at the meeting will go to another districtwide referendum June 30.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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