BELGRADE — Three of the town’s elected officials — the chairman of the Board of Selectpersons, the chairman of the Budget Committee and Rebecca Seel, a school board member — will craft questions about the school budget and school funding that could be considered by a larger committee later.

Selectmen on Tuesday night stopped short of creating a larger committee in response to a proposal by Howard Holinger, chairman of the town’s Budget Committee, to look into the advantages of having Belgrade remain part of Regional School Unit 18, which includes Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney.

The formation of the smaller committee followed a discussion in which more than a dozen people from Belgrade, Rome and Oakland weighed in about how the school costs were either too high or highly worth it.

About 40 people listened to the debate, sitting in close quarters in a small room off the vacant main auditorium at the Belgrade Community Center.

“This is not a withdrawal committee,” said Ernie Rice, the selectpersons’ chairman. Rice noted that school costs have risen sharply in recent years, and Belgrade residents have rejected successive school budgets at the polls.

“People who live in the town of Belgrade year-round cannot afford these increases,” Rice said.

Jack Sutton, of Belgrade, said he didn’t want to see a withdrawal committee and was relieved that Rice said that was not the intent.

Dana Doran, of Belgrade, who said he has children in the school system, said the funding disparity issue is really at the state level rather than at the district level.

His mother, Lois Doran, said she had no problem with the property tax increases caused by the need to fund the schools. “My tax bill went up $80,” she said, adding, “Just to live in this town is to me a wonderful experience.”

Holinger said the town is split about education and that he wonders “why 55 percent of the voters in town have rejected such an essential service as education for our kids.”

Holinger has said the town spends $17,000-plus per student it sends to the district, but the district spends $11,000 to educate each student.

Jason Jabar, who said he has children in the district’s schools, said, “I’d feel a lot better if the discussion was prompted by better education. The goal seems to be cheaper education.”

Craig Sturtevant, from Oakland, said he would prefer that the district produce a line-item budget, saying it would be easier to understand.

Richard LaBelle, Rome’s second selectman, said he was speaking as a private citizen and urged Belgrade selectmen to include people from other towns in the larger committee looking at school costs.

RSU 18 Superintendent Gary Smith attended the selectmen’s meeting and responded to several questions from the board.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams


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