WALES — With almost no opposition, voters on Wednesday approved an $18.5 million budget to operate the schools of Regional School Unit 4 during the 2015-16 school year.

Roughly 50 residents from the RSU’s three communities, Litchfield, Sabattus and Wales, gathered in gymnasium at Oak Hill High School and approved the $18,564,945 budget in less than 45 minutes.

David Blocher, of the Litchfield Budget Committee, which had opposed previous proposals, commended the board for delivering a budget that will result in a tax decrease in all three communities.

“We are very much in favor of what you’ve done,” Blocher said.

The budget now goes for a referendum vote scheduled for Tuesday in each of three communities. The ratification vote is scheduled for 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the traditional polling places, except in Litchfield, where voting will take place at the Town Office instead of the Sportsmen’s Club.

The first budget that emerged from the first public hearing earlier this year was defeated during the June 9 referendum.

“Less than 500 community members turned out and the budget failed by about 30 votes,” Superintendent Jim Hodgkin wrote in a July 9 letter to residents.

Board members returned to the drawing board and earlier this month agreed on an $18 million budget that would shave $51,000 off a proposal rejected by voters in June.

The school board made cuts in three areas to reach its $50,000 goal: technology, maintenance and system administration.

The technology decrease of $5,000 was negotiated with various vendors.

The board found $16,000 in maintenance savings by scaling back care of the athletic fields at Carrie Ricker School in Litchfield and Oak Hill Middle School in Wales. The cut was made primarily in herbicides and pesticides that typically are applied to the fields.

The system administration cut would eliminate $30,000 to go toward the lease of a second bus. Hodgkin has said the board could budget comfortably for a bus and a half each year, which would allow the district to buy two new buses every three or four years.

Perhaps just as important as the spending reductions, Hodgkin wrote in the July 9 letter, was the passage of the state budget, which resulted in the RSU getting an additional $176,000 in state funding.

“Because of the additional state funding and budget changes the board is proposing, if this new budget is approved, all three towns will see a reduction in taxes,” Hodgkin wrote before Wednesday’s meeting.

Litchfield would see a reduction of $22,000; Sabattus, $73,000; and Wales, $21,000.

Hodgkin wrote that the budget “provides the financial support that is needed to continue to improve the educational experience for the children in the three towns.”

Voters on Wednesday approved every article of the board’s budget proposal. As proposed, the budget would increase spending by $445,000, or 2.46 percent, over the 2014-15 budget.

Hodgkin opened the meeting by presenting a graph showing state funding to the RSU since 2010. While the state will chip in $628,000 more in the 2015-16 school year than it did this year, the overall contribution from the state is down about $500,000 in the past seven years. Moreover, Hodgkin said, the amount of money the RSU must raise locally in order to qualify for the state money has increased about $1.7 million. The result, Hodgkin said, is a shift in financial burden from the state to the RSU.

“I think the board has done a phenomenal job,” Hodgkin said. “In essence it’s a $2 million shift, and we’ve done everything we can to try and mitigate that.”

Voters apparently agreed. The 16 articles passed with only a few questions or clarifications, including one resident who said the RSU is wasting money because it uses the controversial testing standards and another resident who complained about spending for students’ computers and free lunches to students who are income-eligible.

The bulk of the articles, however, passed without a single comment. James Waterman, of Sabattus, questioned why his town’s contribution in the article had decreased from a budget meeting held earlier this month. Hodgkin said the reduction was a result of cutting spending in the budget and that the RSU would receive additional money from the state.

“You’re happy with this number, because it’s lower than last meeting?” Waterman asked Hodgkin.

“Very happy,” Hodgkin replied.

“Then I’m happy,” Waterman said with a smile, and he took his seat.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4


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