FARMINGTON — Regional School Unit 9 voters head to the polls Tuesday to vote on the district’s proposed $33.9 million budget.

The proposed budget calls for a $1,148,163, or 3.4 percent, increase over the 2016-2017 budget with the greatest boosts for district special education services and student and staff support.

The budget cleared its first hurdle in the May 31 annual budget vote, where after two hours of discussion, more than 250 residents left the school board’s budget proposal intact.

In that budget, the board is requesting a $565,523, or 12.19 percent, increase for special education services. Much of that increase would go toward 17 educational technicians, 14 of whom were assigned to students who moved into the district during the previous school year.

The proposed special education increases garnered the most conversation during the May 31 session, with some voters questioning what was driving the additional costs. Even with recent increases, however, RSU 9 special education funding lags well behind the state average. In the 2015-2016 school year the district spent $1,391 per student toward special education while state average was $1,953.

District Superintendent Thomas Ward said in addition to new students moving into the district with special education needs, RSU 9 is still catching up on its special education funding levels.

“I was very upfront when I came here. We were terribly underfunding special education,” Ward said in an interview Friday. “And I just said it’s going to take time and over time we’ll do it slowly and we’ll start heading in the right direction and we’ve been able to do that.”

With that underfunding, came legal liability, Ward said, as the district failed to properly serve its special education students. He has argued that increases in special education funding would likely cost less than potential lawsuits against the district.

The board budget also provides funding for three new social workers, at a cost of $205,913. Ward said he hoped that funding remained in place so the social workers could help mainstream students address mental health challenges before they rise to the level of requiring special education screening and services. In total the board has requested a $217,804 increase for student and staff support, a 9.85 percent increase over last year’s budget.

In addition to its annual budget, the district is proposing a $317,834 bond proposal. If approved, bond funds would go toward repairs across the district including $43,000 for exterior window replacements for several classrooms, the kitchen and two bathrooms in the G.D. Cushing School, $37,000 toward gym roof resurfacing at the G.D. Cushing School, $35,000 for exterior window replacements for second floor classrooms of the Cape Cod Hill School and $60,000 to excavate and pave the bus garage parking lot.

Other projects include upgrades to classroom lighting at G.D. Cushing School, replacing sidewalks at the entrance the Cape Cod Hill school, replacing the boiler in the bus garage, parking improvements for the adult education facility, installing air conditioning units in some Mt. Blue classrooms and replacing water storage tanks at Mt. Blue Middle School.

The bond would cost roughly $38,217 annually over 10 years with an estimated 3.5 percent interest rate. Interest would cost approximately $60,000 over the 10 year period, for a total cost of approximately $380,000. Payments on the bond would begin in the 2018-2019 school year. Superintendent Thomas Ward said the bond would reduce the 2017-2018 budget by $77,595. Two years on, after payments begin, the budget would increase by $9,113 before dropping again the following year as older bond issues are paid off.

Kate McCormick — 861-9218

[email protected]

Twitter: @KateRMcCormick


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