In recent years there has been a growing split in Belgrade over funding the school budget. While few in town are interested in reducing the funding for Belgrade students, the only action available to resist this rising tax burden is to vote the budget down. Continuing to vote down the school budget is not a sustainable solution for providing quality education for Belgrade students.

On Sept. 15, 2015, the Belgrade Select Board voted to form the Belgrade Regional School Unit 18 Review Committee. The committee looked at three options: 1. Remain in RSU 18; 2. Withdraw from RSU 18 and enter into a contract for K-12 through RSU 18; and 3. Withdraw from RSU 18, run a K-5 school and contract with RSU 18 for grades 6-12.

The committee consisted of 10 members: One each from the Select Board, school board, town budget committee, an administrator of RSU 18, and six Belgrade residents.

The committee’s meetings were held at the Belgrade town office twice a month beginning on Sept. 29, 2015. After months of meetings and fact-finding discussions, the committee developed a spreadsheet outlining a cost-benefit analysis of the three expected conclusions. At a January 2016 meeting of the Select Board, a representative from the professional consulting firm Planning Decisions Inc., a company with experience assisting towns that are withdrawing from a school district, was present to listen to and answer questions.

After listening to a description of how the committee was conducting its work, the consultant indicated that the committee’s approach was reasonable. He said his work generally has a 15 percent margin of error. The committee concluded that their margin of error was probably the same.

Here is the cost-benefit analysis for each option.

1. Remain in RSU 18

Total estimated cost for Belgrade, $5,793,933

• These costs reflect the current situation (2015-2016).

• We remain part of the RSU and have Belgrade representation on the School Board.

• The mandatory contribution toward the RSU operating budget for Belgrade is determined by the state’s Essential Programs and Services formula. The RSU cannot change this part of the funding equation as it is determined by the state.

• Additional local money from each town is determined by the RSU 18 consolidation plan and is based on a 75/25 split of land value/student population.

• Local debt is currently shared equally by the RSU 18 towns under the consolidation plan.

2. Withdraw from RSU 18 and enters into a (tuition) contract for K-12 with RSU 18

Total estimated cost for Belgrade, $5,722,549

• A complete withdrawal from RSU 18.

• Tuition all students to the RSU 18.

• No Belgrade representation on the School Board

• Essential Programs and Services value changes slightly due to Belgrade-only associated costs. This part of the funding equation is determined by the state.

• The tuition rate represented is the same as Option 1. However, the tuition rate will have to be negotiated with RSU 18 and would not be based on Essential Programs and Services only. As a result, the tuition estimate is unknown and the total cost estimate is largely based upon assumptions and cannot be pinpointed without a negotiation proceeding.

• Local debt based on Essential Programs and Services formula for Belgrade only.

3. Withdraws from RSU 18, run a K-5 school and contracts tuition with RSU 18 for grades 6-12

Total estimated cost for Belgrade, $5,234,886

• A complete withdrawal from RSU 18.

• Take possession of and run Belgrade Central School (K-5) as a town-owned school.

• Tuition grades 6-12 to the RSU 18.

• No Belgrade representation on the School Board.

• Local debt based on Essential Programs and Services formula for Belgrade only.

• This assumes that both Belgrade and Rome students attend BCS. (It is up to the RSU where Rome students attend K-5, unless Rome pursues the withdrawal option.)

• Tuition rates are based on January 2016 (a 4 percent increase is anticipated for 2016-2017). However, the tuition rate will have to be negotiated with RSU 18 and could be higher.

• In addition to tuition, career and technical education will need to be added for grades 9-12.

• Included are the costs of running Belgrade Central School including building maintenance, equipment, transportation and special education.

These are basic estimates with significant margins of error. Some of these are negotiated costs.

These results were handed to the Belgrade Select Board by the committee chairperson at a board meeting before Town Meeting in 2016.

On Sept. 5 at 6 p.m. at the town office, the Select Board is going to hold a hearing on the petition to hire a professional firm to look into withdrawing from RSU 18, which the town will vote on it in November.

The cost to do another report with a professional firm could cost $15,000 or more, and they would likely come to the same conclusions of the review committee. The review committee worked hard for Belgrade residents and did a wonderful job.

Judy Johnson is a resident of Belgrade.

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