WINSLOW — Voters will decide whether to move forward with a long-discussed $8.1 million school renovation bond and whether to approve the $15.45 million education budget when they head to the polls on Tuesday.

Both issues have proved divisive among Winslow residents in connection with their effect on the tax rate and the future of education in the town.

The discussion on whether to close Winslow Junior High School has been taking place for years as the building, built in 1928, has become hazardous and inefficient. The first attempt to go to bond with a $10.3 million plan to close the school and consolidate to a two-school campus was rejected last November by about 200 votes.

What will go before voters this time around has been scaled back to what school officials hope will be viewed as a compromise.

Stephen Blatt, who runs Stephen Blatt Architects in Portland, designed the renovations of the schools, which include a 14,830-square-foot wing on the end of the high school for classrooms and programming space specifically for seventh- and eighth-graders. The wing also would have its own entrance, which officials said was important in order for the junior high to maintain its identity.

The elementary school would be renovated to provide space for sixth-grade students. The renovation also would reconfigure the front office.

The new construction would include a 415-seat auditorium and a renovated space for chorus, band and stage design areas, which is meant for performance and teaching space.

Critics of the bond have said that the new auditorium is a luxury and not a necessity for student education, but school officials have made the argument that the space is integral to music and art education.

If the junior high is closed, Winslow will have about 638 students and only 415 seats. The current high school auditorium is capable of seating 210 people.

Additionally, incoming superintendent Peter Thiboutot has stated many times that the larger stage is necessary for teaching space and that the current junior high band, with all of their instruments, would not be able to fit on the high school’s current stage.

Thiboutot also said that the arts programming will help the town be competitive in attracting families to settle in Winslow.

A cafeteria and auxiliary gymnasium expansion also would be funded by the bond. The additional cafeteria space would provide new points of service in order to make wait time shorter for students and in turn increase revenue from food sales. The auxiliary gymnasium would be expanded to a full-court gym providing essential practice space with the influx of the junior high teams.

Members of the Council and School Board have different opinions on how the bond will affect the tax rate.

Councilor Ken Fletcher drew up a document that states that the average yearly debt service payment would be at least $532,575, or an average property tax rate effect of $0.83 per $1,000 of property value, which could increase taxes by an average of $121 per year for the median homeowner with a home valued at $140,000.

School officials disagree with that calculation, saying Fletcher did not include the $423,000 of estimated cost avoidance from closing the junior high and retired debt that could be used toward the bond payment.

Thiboutot said the bond would result in a property tax rate increase of $0.819 for every $1,000 of assessed property value, raising taxes by an average of $118.75 per year for the median household.

The $8.1 million plan that is on the ballot was not the original plan that the building committee and the school board had conceived and voted to pass following the $10.3 million bond’s failure in November.

School administrators and school board members were forced to alter the $8.6 million plan that the building committee originally had drafted when the Town Council voted to shave off $500,000 from the project’s budget. The $8.6 million plan’s footprint has remained relatively the same, but the renovation would be without the bells and whistles, including technology and equipment that could be installed further down the line.

The Town Council voted to send the bond to voters in April by a vote of 4-3, with Councilors Patricia West, Ray Caron, Steve Russell and Jeff West voting in favor and Councilors Ken Fletcher, Ben Twitchell and Jerry Quirion opposed.

However, the council also took a 4-3 vote on a resolution recommending that the bond ought not to pass. Jeff West was the only councilor to flip his vote on the resolution. When asked why he voted ought not to pass the night of the vote, he said he did not have a comment.

School officials have argued that the bond does not deserve an ought not to pass designation as taxpayers would pay just $3.87 more in property taxes per year for the $8.1 million bond than the $7.83 million figure that the council had proposed after the first referendum failed in November.

The council’s resolution prompted both the school board and the building committee to take another vote on whether to endorse the $8.1 million project, which both groups did unanimously.

If the bond passes, construction will begin June 2019 and full occupancy is expected by September 2020.

EDUCATION BUDGET

Voters also will be asked to approve the $15,577,401 education budget for 2018-19 when they cast their ballots Tuesday.

The budget is up by $1.047 million, or about 8 percent more than the current fiscal year.

Two of the major factors driving the budget include salary increases for teachers, education technicians and other personnel such as bus drivers and administrative aides, as well as a group insurance increase.

The teacher salary increase, which totals $407,727, reflects the outcome of contracts negotiated over the summer which granted some teachers raises ranging from $1,000 to $4,000, depending on seniority and expertise, over a three-year period.

The education technicians received a 3 percent raise, and administrative staff members and bus drivers received a 2 percent raise. Those contracts were negotiated at separate times.

The board also was asked to make cuts to the increase in the budget, which resulted in scaling back an employee who works part time as a teacher and part time as an education technician III, eliminating five education technician I’s who monitor lunch and recess, not refinishing a gymnasium floor and an auxiliary gymnasium floor, doing without some repairs and maintenance to sports fields, and not buying new computers for technology staff.

Before making those changes to the budget, school officials had made around $140,000 in cuts to attempt to reduce the increase in the budget. Those cuts included the purchase of a new bus and going without new textbooks and painting classrooms.

According to a tax impact document from Fletcher, the property tax rate would increase by $0.94 per $1000 in property valuation, which could increase taxes by $137 per year for the median property valued at $146,000.

The polls will be open for the school renovation bond and budget referendum from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Winslow VFW Banquet and Conference Center, at 175 Veteran Drive.

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

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