CHELSEA — Spending would increase 3 percent for the Sheepscot Valley School District — Regional School Unit 12 — next year, and all its member towns would be paying more, under a preliminary budget proposal for 2019-2020.

Superintendent Howard Tuttle and members of the district’s board of directors attended Thursday’s Chelsea Selectboard meeting to provide an overview of the preliminary budget. Chelsea is expected to see the biggest change in its local share, because the town’s growing student count has forced districtwide spending increases.

For the 2019-2020 school year, the district is proposing total spending of $23,034,581, an increase of $811,289 — or 3.65 percent — from the current budget’s $22,223,292. With state subsidy and other revenue anticipated to be $10.3 million, the local share of the costs for next school year would be $12,119,971.

While two positions are proposed to be cut, Tuttle said, the hiring of a new teacher and an increase in tuition — since RSU 12 doesn’t have its own high school, it has to pay other area districts to send its students elsewhere — are driving the spending increase. He said $6 million — about 27 percent — of the spending plan is for tuition costs.

Students from Chelsea also are driving the cost, since the town’s numbers in the district has grown steadily since 2014, Tuttle said. In 2014, 350 students from Chelsea were in RSU 12; that number is now 416, an increase of 66, or 18.8 percent.

“It’s kind of hard to avoid an increase,” Tuttle said. “Even if we brought you a zero percent increase (in cost per student), Chelsea would still see an increase.”

The local share for the towns in the district is determined by how many students come from each; the per-student cost is $13,767. For Chelsea, its 416 students, the most in the district, equate to a $5,727,244 local share. After state subsides and other revenue, that share is reduced to $2,484,776, or about $5,973 per student. That’s $40 more than last year’s per-student cost in Chelsea.

Tuttle used last year’s budget numbers to estimate the effect on the town’s property tax rate, which he said would be an additional 84 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. For a Chelsea property assessed at $100,000, that would mean an increase of $83.55.

Selectmen also briefly discussed withdrawal from the school district Thursday night. Selectman Mike Pushard asked Tuttle how much money the town would owe the district if it broke off. He floated the idea of paying down that debt in an attempt to lower the cost in the event of another withdrawal vote. Tuttle was not sure of the exact number, but was puzzled as to why the town would pay debt that it currently does not owe.

“I don’t know why you’d want to pay down debt you don’t owe,” he said.

Selectman Ben Smith said the question was “academic,” citing a November 2018 vote that shot down a withdrawal.

The budget was presented with little detail Thursday. Tuttle said an itemized draft budget would be available at the end of the month. Ahead of the November 2018 vote, school board members said it would cost more to run the school independently than it would to remain in the district.

The district encompasses Alna, Chelsea, Palermo, Somerville, Westport Island, Whitefield and Windsor. Alna’s estimated cost would be $970,944, Palermo’s would be 1,883,483, Somerville’s cost would be $641,742, Westport Island’s would be $751,083, Whitefield’s cost would be $2,273,252 and Windsor’s would be $3,114,692.

Tuttle said the budget will be finalized by voters in district towns on June 11, after the board of directors finalizes the proposal in April.

 

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666

[email protected]

Twitter: @SamShepME

 

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