VASSALBORO — Members of the Budget Committee used the annual Town Meeting on Monday evening to express their concerns about the sharp increase in education spending each year.

The discussion was sparked by the committee’s recommendation to spend $50,000 less on school administration than what the School Board advised in their budget proposal.

Residents approved the board’s $7,730,785 budget, which is an increase of $347,949 or 4.71 percent, rejecting the proposed cut, but not before a lengthy debate about the costs associated with education, particularly in administration.

Committee member Peggy Schaffer explained to residents that there is a lot of fixed cost in the education budget that the committee has no control over, such as the cost of special education and tuition. Schaffer said it is important for residents to understand that some of these increases can’t be touched as they deal with state regulations.

Additionally, Schaffer said the committee did not agree with the School Board’s decision to sign an interlocal agreement with Waterville and Winslow — which will replace funding for system administration for Alternative Organizational Structure 92 when the district dissolves in July — to contract services related to the superintendent’s office for three years. She said the committee believed three years was a big commitment to make and limited Vassalboro in what they could do to cut down costs in that department.

Schaffer said the committee felt as though the only way to have a discussion about these concerns would be to make a cut somewhere in the education budget. The committee did not want to cut anything from instruction, but instead made a $50,000 reduction to school administration.

Superintendent Eric Haley said he thought the committee might be confusing school administration and system administration; school administration consists of the principal, assistant principal and secretaries, and the system administration relates to the superintendent’s office.

Haley said cutting school administration may put at risk the ability to pay for the secretaries.

Schaffer said that the committee did not know what line items made up the school administration because the committee was not presented with a detailed education budget earlier.

Committee member Elizabeth Reuthie echoed Schaffer, saying the budget process this year was incredibly difficult. Reuthie also withdrew her name from consideration for another term on the committee at the start of the meeting, citing her frustration with the stressful process.

She said residents need to be cognizant of the cost of tuition to send Vassalboro students to other schools.

“Our school choice is great, but it’s very expensive,” she said.

Erskine Academy, which is where most families in the area choose to send their high school students, costs $34,000 more in tuition dollars than the other schools, according to Haley.

Reuthie also expressed concern over the increase in education spending, saying that 29 percent of Vassalboro students need special help.

“That’s alarming,” she said, adding that she believes it is only going to become worse in years to come.

“We are talking about this budget, but we have to start looking at the longterm,” she said.

Residents ended up rebuffing the committee’s cut and approving the School Board recommendation for school administration, as well as the school budget in its entirety.

The budget totals $7,730,785, which is an increase of $347,949 or 4.71 percent from the current fiscal year.

The budget increases the tax rate by $0.90 for every $1,000 of assessed property value. A homeowner with a house valued at $100,000 will pay $90 more in taxes.

Voters will have a final say on the education budget during the June 12 election. Polls will be open at the Vassalboro Town Office from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Residents also voted to approve a municipal budget of $2.06 million with little discussion.

The Select Board’s budget was an increase of nearly $42,000 or 2.07 percent from the current fiscal year. Some of the increase was driven by more money going toward public works, the fire department, first responders, capital improvement and town administration.

The town’s expected revenue is up by $69,096 or 4.64 percent from the current fiscal year to total $1,559,260. Voters approved an article to use the revenue to reduce the 2018-19 tax commitment.

There were a few articles on which the budget committee and select board disagreed. One point of disagreement was in regard to whether the expenditure funds should come from taxation or surplus.

For example, residents discussed whether to raise and appropriate $37,500 to put in a reserve for a plow truck and the roof of the Riverside Fire Station from taxation or the surplus.

Selectman John Melrose told residents that the board believed they were drawing too much from surplus, and that they don’t want it to get so low that they are not able to borrow money.

Budget committee chairman Rick Denico Jr. said this was one of the items that the committee designated to come from surplus in order to lessen the increase of the mil rate.

Residents voted to have the money for the reserve to be appropriated by taxation.

The town also elected Doug Phillips, K. Peter Allen, Barbara Redman, Rick Denico Jr. and Joe Suita to two-year terms on the budget committee. Richard Phippen was elected to a one-year term.

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

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