FARMINGTON — In a marathon meeting, Regional School Unit 9 residents Tuesday approved a $33.9 million schools budget despite warnings from opposition voters that any budget proposal including increases was destined to fail in the upcoming annual referendum.

In a meeting that ran more than three hours, around 150 district voters sparred over the school board’s latest $33,904,537 budget recommendation, a $1.18 million increase over the previous year. In the end, the voters approved a slightly higher budget of $33,929,507.

At the core of the argument between those who wished to support the district’s proposal and those who opposed it was tension over whether the district should use this year’s increase in state education subsidy for new hires that could lead to permanent budget increases when there is no guarantee of future state support.

In a special meeting last week, the board voted to use more than half of the $729,954 in additional state subsidies to zero out any increases in town’s assessments for schools. They used the additional funding to create three staff positions, including two social workers and a full-time guidance or school services coordinator. The remaining $165,431 was alloted toward decreasing the amount of money the district would borrow for a voter-approved bond issue for capital improvement projects.

In Tuesday’s vote, residents approved a $24,970 boost to the board’s recommended budget in order to fund fully an American Sign Language instructor’s position at Mt. Blue High School. Currently that position is only half time.

After the vote, Chesterville resident Ross Clair warned that any further increases to the budget would be rejected in the Aug. 3 districtwide referendum.

“If you want to stir a hornet’s nest, just keep inching those (numbers) up and the hornets will come out,” Clair said.

Clair was one of a bloc of voters determined to decrease the budget before it went out to district towns for approval. In a sustained effort, members of the group proposed decreases to every article. When one effort failed, they would propose another, more modest decrease.

The group also pushed for written votes for each article, expressing skepticism about moderator Ron Aseltine’s approach to voting procedure and potential bias among the volunteer vote counters.

Eventually other residents moved for a change in voting procedure to require majority support for written votes as opposed to the lower 10 percent bar.

Outside of increasing regular instruction for the American Sign Language position, voters approved the board’s recommended budget without changes. The only article to receive unanimous support without note or objection called for no funding at all.

Town assessments are expected to increase by an average of 0.19 percent to compensate for the $24,970 boost to the board’s budget. Four towns’ assessments would decrease from last year’s, while five towns would get increases ranging from 0.3 to 8.51 percent. Farmington’s assessment is not expected to change.

Kate McCormick — 861-9218

[email protected]

Twitter: @KateRMcCormick

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