OAKLAND — The Regional School Unit 18 administration has presented a $34.7 million budget for next year, representing a spending increase of less than 1 percent over this year’s budget.

In a presentation Wednesday night, RSU 18 Superintendent Gary Smith said the increase includes new spending on items teachers, school board members and parents have asked for, such as books and school supplies.

“It took us many difficult budget years to get where we are. We can’t solve all the problems we have in one budget,” he said in an interview Thursday.

RSU 18 includes the towns of Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney.

The district is no stranger to contentious budget debate. Last year voters rejected a $34.7 million initial budget presented by the school board before accepting a pared down budget more than a month later.

The proposed budget plan for next year includes about $313,000 in extra spending, including $45,300 for classroom supplies, more than $36,000 for books and $150,000 in reserve funding for architectural design services. A district committee is in the midst of a review of RSU 18 buildings and grounds, and building designs might be required, depending on its recommendations, Smith said in an interview Thursday.

The school board still has to review and possibly change the budget before presenting it to voters in a ballot referendum in May. The board has scheduled workshops on the budget for Monday and Tuesday, March 14 and 15.

While the increase in the proposal compared to last year’s budget would be less than 1 percent, taxpayers in the five district towns could be on the hook for almost $679,000 more in additional local money.

Part of the reason for that increase is that the state still is not providing its required 55 percent of funding for education, leaving local taxpayers to pick up the difference, Smith said.

RSU 18 also funds its schools further than what the state Essential Programs and Services funding model requires to keep class sizes in check and provide co-curricular and extracurricular activities, according to Smith. Property owners pick up the cost for that extra funding.

In previous years, the district has used its cash reserve to offset taxes, but the district’s reserve is so low that it can’t be used this year, Smith said.

Additional costs to taxpayers could change depending on whether the Legislature approves extra spending for education.

Legislators are wrangling with a $20 million gap in education funding from the state and a mandated increase in the local tax rate for education spending.

The funding issue already is being played out in Augusta. About $23 million in increased education funding has been tacked onto a tax conformity bill to align Maine with changes in federal tax codes that Democrats and Republicans are sparring over.

According to the Maine School Management Association, another bill would appropriate $20 million for schools. Both bills would use money from the state’s $72 million budget surplus, according to the association.

Smith said Thursday that if $20 million for education were approved, RSU 18 could receive $400,000 in additional state money.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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