ANSON — The local school board took steps Wednesday night to reduce an almost 6 percent increase in the school budget after hearing from a handful of residents unhappy about the costs and a proposal from the superintendent to make reductions.

Last month, the Regional School Unit 74 board of directors approved a $10.6 million budget including a 9 percent increase in the amount of money to be raised locally and a 5.89 percent overall budget increase.

“I’ve gone to visit each municipality and I think the spirit of the notion is, ‘We want these things. We want to support our schools,’ but it’s not sustainable,'” Superintendent Mike Tracy said.

RSU 74 includes the towns of Anson, Embden, New Portland and Solon.

After about an hour of discussion, the board voted 9-4 to cut $103,000 from the budget and take an additional $100,000 from reserve to offset expenses.

The cuts include $50,000 for a literacy coach, a new position; $10,000 for Wi-Fi updates across the district; $20,000 from the special education budget; and $23,000 that had been budgeted to pay for raises in teacher salaries if legislation proposing a minimum $40,000 salary for teachers is approved by the Legislature.

Currently, nine staff members earn less than $40,000, and Tracy said the board originally had budgeted for the increase in case the legislation passed.

However, he said, the state has indicated it would pick up the cost for the first year if the legislation is approved and possibly help offset the cost for the first three years.

Before the board’s vote, a handful of residents expressed frustration about the budget, which included an original increase of $593,970.

The reasons for the increase, according to Tracy, included a $50,000 decrease in the amount of state funding the district will receive next year, about $150,000 in special education costs and about $100,000 in increases for deferred maintenance and facilities.

The maintenance and facilities budget also includes $80,000, including salary and benefits, to re-introduce a director of operations position. That position was merged last year with that of Madison-based School Administrative District 59, but the district is moving to hire its own director after the employee resigned from the RSU 74 duties.

Tracy also said about $200,000 in cost increases, or about 2 percent of the budget, is a result of normal increases in the cost of living and doing business.

Larry Dunphy, a former state lawmaker from Embden, said he attended a strategic planning meeting earlier in the year where members of the board talked about what they wanted to see for the district in the future.

“Things were thrown out like rooms with food and water for the kids, underwater basket weaving, everything going,” Dunphy said. “It’s all nice. We want better buildings, higher test scores; and a number of people who were there are now speaking against this budget. I find that confusing because we want it all, but we don’t want to pay the bills.”

“I don’t understand why we’re creating positions or instituting old positions when it’s not directly affecting or helping students and the budget is outrageously high,” said Maddy Pierce, deputy tax collector in Anson. “My concern as a taxpayer as well as an employee in a municipality is right now the average home owner, if the budget is the way it is, is looking at roughly $150 to $300 more in your tax dollars right now.”

Board members who voted against a new overall $10.48 million budget including the cuts were Dulcie Welch, Tammy Murray, Dwight Barron and Bobbie Sue Harrington. It is scheduled to go to voters in the four communities in a districtwide budget meeting April 25 and to a referendum May 7.

Also on Wednesday, the board voted 8-5 to reclaim authority over decisions to be made about high school sports mergers with other districts.

Some board members said there has been a lot of pushback from the communities over recent decisions about sports mergers, and many people have said they want Carrabec High School to maintain its own identity.

Some of those against the board making the decisions also said they felt it was something that should be decided by the superintendent and the athletic director.

“I believe our job is to make sure you do your job well,” board member Harrington said. “I don’t think that decision should come before the board every single year, every sports season. I think it tears programs apart, it pits kids against each other and it makes the community crazy. It makes us crazy. And I do believe we need to hold you accountable for your job, and this is your job.”

Board members who voted against re-assuming the decision making were Robert Demchak, Tammy Murray, Harrington, Dwight Barron and Grace Carreiro.

 

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected] 

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


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