FARMINGTON — In a nearly four-hour-long meeting, RSU 9 voters passed a budget for the 2017-18 year that, if approved at referendum, will come in $92,000 less than last year’s budget, but it may also put the district in conflict with state law.

A third round of budget deliberations brought more than 300 residents to the Mt. Blue High School campus, and when they adjourned for the evening, they had approved a budget of $32,656,920 — a decrease of $980,173 from the school board’s proposed amount of $33.6 million.

While $74,508 was cut from regular education, bringing the total down to $10,210,661, the primary target was funding for special education. Voters passed a special education budget of $4,639,610, cutting $545,358 from the amount proposed by the board. The amended article passed 193-133.

“I see special education as this behemoth,” one resident said. “It’s knocking us out. And you’re putting your arms around this behemoth, but it’s causing taxpayers all kinds of hardship.”

The state requires school districts to provide services to special needs students who have Individualized Education Programs. The services can range from having access to in-house social workers to requiring one-on-one attention from teacher’s aides.

Those in favor of the reduction — and many voters indicated it was the biggest issue in the proposed budget — pointed out that it is the job of the school board and superintendent Dr. Tom Ward to make the necessary shifts in budgeting to cover the needs of special education.

“We are at the point now where we will be paying for legal services rather than paying people to work with our students,” Christine Shea, the director of special services, said in an interview Wednesday. “We already have students who are not receiving services they need. If we have to make the proposed cuts, given our current situation, we are not going to be in compliance to state law.”

Due to the length of the meeting, moderator Ronald Aseltine recommended voting on articles covering administrative support, transportation, facilities maintenance, sports, extra-curricular activities, guidance, health and other items in a single vote. After discussion and several motions, voters decided to flat fund the articles with the exception of a $9,000 decrease.

RSU 9 residents will vote either yes to approve the reduced budget or no to deny it at the Tuesday referendum.

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