FARMINGTON — Regional School Unit 9 voters, after a heated debate at a lengthy district-wide meeting Wednesday night, gave the proposed $32.97 million budget for the 2016-2017 school year initial approval.

The proposed $32,973,180 budget represents a 2.9 percent increase over the current budget. The budget figure set by those in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting will go to a referendum vote on Tuesday, June 14, for final approval in all 10 of the district’s towns.

About 275 people packed the Mt. Blue High School gymnasium for the 7 p.m. meeting, though by the time the meeting ended just after 10 p.m. many people had left.

While the budget was ultimately accepted as recommended by the RSU 9 board of directors, many residents who spoke at the meeting had issue with the 2.9 increase and urged the board to rein in costs.

“The board needs to do some really hard work. It’s not the people’s job to tell them where to cut; it’s the people’s job to tell them what they can afford,” New Sharon resident Bob Neal said. “You need to learn to live with no increase.”

One man accused the board of “trickery” in presenting the budget as only a 2.9 percent increase over last year’s, saying that the percentage does not accurately represent the impact on taxpayers.

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Superintendent Tom Ward explained that additional non-tax revenues that district will receive in the coming year actually blunted the impact of the 2.9 percent increase in the majority of the district’s local contributions.

“All I can tell you is the truth, the overall increase in the budget is 2.9 percent,” Ward said. “When anyone says trickery or deception, that really bothers me… because we worked our tails off.”

Included in the increased non-tax revenue the district will receive in the 2016-2017 budget year is the use of $500,000 from the district’s carry over fund, an additional $250,000 in state funding and $300,000 in MaineCare reimbursements.

Ward attributes the budget’s “minimal impact” on local assessments to this additional revenue.

If the figure approved at Wednesday’s meeting is approved by voters on June 14, the budget affects town contributions by an increase of $814 for Chesterville, a decrease of $14,636 for Farmington, an increase of $2,702 for Industry, an decrease of $9,014 for New Sharon, an increase of $11,508 for New Vineyard, a $23,029 increase for Starks, a decrease of $10,283 for Temple, an increase of $6,787 for Vienna, an increase of $37,176 for Weld, and a decrease of $74,891 for Wilton.

Administration costs were a hot topic at the meeting, with Farmington resident Mike DeSchenes starting discussion on Article 1 by comparing the budgets and salaries of administrators in neighboring school districts to those of RSU 9.

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He made a motion, which ultimately failed, to reduce the board recommended $10,253,395 in Article 1 by $133,165. The funds designated in this article go towards elementary instruction, secondary instruction, district-wide instruction, bilingual instruction and differentiated curriculum.

Given that DeSchenes main issue with the budget seemed to be administration, an RSU 9 teacher rebutted him for suggesting that spending be cut from instruction when administration costs fall in a different article.

“I’m advocating for smaller classroom ratios for teachers so that kids can learn and can feel valued,” She said. “That first (article) is just teachers…. Don’t cut from the classroom, that is an ignorant move.”

Those in favor of the proposed budget urged their fellow voters to think about how education impacts the future of Franklin County children.

“For the greater part, RSU 9 is being fiscally responsible,” Wilton Selectwoman Tiffany Maiuri said. “We can keep on cutting … (But) please show me where continued cutting brings prosperity.”

Maiuri then posed the question, “What is the quickest way out of poverty?” To which superintendent Ward answered, “Education.”

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The proposed $32.97 million budget was approved in April after RSU 9 board of directors asked administrators to bring them budget requests that represented a maximum 3 percent increase.

Voters initially rejected last year’s budget, and the board had to cut an additional $200,000 before a $32.04 million package was approved at a second districtwide meeting in July.

If voters reject the proposed budget at the polls on June 14, the board must start from scratch on drafting a new budget.

RSU 9 includes the towns of Chesterville, Farmington, Industry, New Sharon, New Vineyard, Starks, Temple, Vienna, Weld and Wilton.

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate


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