OAKLAND — The proposed $34.6 million Regional School Unit 18 budget for the coming year was presented to Oakland residents Monday night, showing less than a one percent increase over the current budget. The final board-approved budget is down about $89,000 from what was originally proposed for 2016-17 after the board and Superintendent Gary Smith made changes during budget workshops.

“It’s like coming out of a negotiation,” Smith said of the work done paring line items to get to where taxpayers and school officials are comfortable. “Nobody gets everything they want, but we tried to be fiscally responsible and do the best we can for the students. We’ve got a strong message from our communities that there’s only so much capacity can come on the back of the local taxpayers.”

Smith said considerations included a move a couple of years ago to shift Maine state retirement from the state to local budgets, which adds to spending each year. He said RSU 18 will receive $275,256 more in state aid to schools than it did last year, adding that the district is not able this year to draw from an undesignated fund balance or surplus.

“These budgets are getting tougher and tougher,” Smith said. “I think it’s a budget in which we can do good things and continue the work toward making our educational vision move forward and be very responsible to our communities.”

The proposed budget, which will be presented to four of the five towns in the district this week, is up $223,227 over the current budget or 0.65 percent. Questions Monday night included why the district is borrowing money for music when it might be less costly to add the items to regular budget lines.

The budget will go before the public Tuesday night in Sidney, Wednesday in Belgrade and Thursday in China. All the meetings are scheduled to start at 6 p.m. The district also includes Rome. Monday’s meeting was at Messalonskee Middle School, Tuesday’s is at James H. Bean school in Sidney, Wednesday’s is in the Belgrade Central School and Thursday’s is in China Middle School.

The district budget meeting is May 12 with the validation referendum set for Tuesday, May 24.

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 of $34.4 million about a month later.

Smith said last month that the increase includes new spending on items that 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 March.

The $223,227 in extra spending in the proposed budget plan for next year includes $53,929 for classroom supplies, more than $38,000 for books and reserve funding for architectural design services. 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.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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Twitter:@Doug_Harlow