SKOWHEGAN — Of the $36.7 million school district budget proposed for the coming year, Skowhegan taxpayers would be footing less of the bill than they did in the previous year; but that might not stop some from trying to vote it down.

That was part of the message in presenting the proposed budget to Skowhegan selectmen Tuesday night from Brent Colbry, superintendent of School Administrative District 54.

The full $36,767,926 school budget for the coming year represents a 3% increase in school spending, but if voters approve the spending package May 20 at the district budget meeting, Skowhegan taxpayers will see a drop of $211,557, or 2.29 percent, as their local share.

The budget meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday in the Skowhegan Area High School gymnasium. The budget validation referendum — a simple “yes” or “no” — is scheduled for voting all day June 11 in each of the district towns — Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Smithfield.

Colbry said Tuesday that the budget will be voted on Monday article by article, so there will be a new budget for 2019-20 one way or the other. What that will look like will be up to voters in the six towns.

“It won’t be a matter of it not passing May 20 — a budget will come out of that meeting, either what we recommended or something else,” Colbry said by phone Tuesday. “So There will be a budget.”

On June 11 during referendum voting, if voters say “No” to the budget, then the budget process starts over, he said.

“It won’t go back to 2018-19. That budget’s gone,” Colbry said. “We start the process all over again and do up a new budget, having another district budget meeting and another referendum. We do it over and over until it passes at referendum.”

Colbry said he has heard of people unhappy with the situation in SAD 54 and may want to vote “no” on the budget, but he said he doesn’t know how many people that might be.

Colbry said earlier this month he had heard the rumors of scuttling the budget but said he could not understand anyone not liking the proposed budget, with a local assessment of  just 0.22% over the current year and state aid at $20,753,958. The school board approved the budget April 25.

“It’s going to positively affect Skowhegan,” Colbry told selectmen Tuesday night. “I think it’s a reasonable request for the citizens.”

Brent Colbry

The overall budget shares for the towns are up just under 3%. Cornville would get a hike in local allocation of 7.3 percent, with all the other towns anticipating at an approximate increase of 4.45 percent.

The spending proposed for 2019-20 will be presented at the district budget meeting in warrant articles to include regular instruction, special education, administration and transportation. A written explanation, with information about receipts and expenditures, is included in the breakdown for each warrant article in the district budget book.

The overall budget is up by $1,070,339, or 2.99 percent from last year. The increase is almost totally a result of negotiated salaries, which total $938,748 in additional payroll costs. Other increases are seen in contracted services and fuel costs. There are increases in unemployment compensation rates, utility costs, contracted services and Maine State Retirement costs totaling $183,748.

The proposed budget also includes an additional 1.6 special education teachers and four education technicians in special education.

According to the letter of transmittal to SAD 54 voters, the school board notes that since 2004-05, there have been only five increases in the districtwide local assessments. This year’s local assessment is $125,520 less than the 2014-15 local share five years ago.

The school board voted unanimously May 2 to sign the warrants for the budget meeting and move the budget to a public vote.

During the informational session May 2, the budget was met with a challenge from some “Indian Pride” supporters who are not giving up on their bid to reverse local votes to drop Native American mascots in schools.

James Macarthur, of Canaan, stood to call on board Chairwoman Dixie Ring and Colbry to step down.

It was declaration of no confidence in their leadership, Macarthur said.

“We feel that we were ignored and not properly represented,” he said. “The fact that the chair and the superintendent reopened the issue after the public outcry and vote of 2015 is unforgivable.”

Debate has raged in and out of school board meetings since 2015, when the board voted 11-9 to keep the name.

“The fact that members of the board only joined to overturn that vote is reprehensible,” Macarthur said, adding that he felt Ring and Colbry no longer represent the majority of district voters. He asked Ring and Colbry to step down from their positions.

Asked later if there would be any action on the statements issued by Macarthur, both Ring and Colbry answered with one word: “No.”

There is a rumored plot to scuttle the School Administrative District 54 budget because of the recent votes to get rid of the “Indians” nickname for school sports teams and to decline a referendum on the question.

Directors voted 14-9 in March to “respectfully retire” the nickname “Indians” for all schools in the Skowhegan district, making it the last school system in Maine to end the use of Native American nicknames and imagery for its sports teams.

Members of a closed Facebook group called Skowhegan Indian Pride, who wanted to keep the nickname, argued their side of the issue wasn’t being heard. They pressed the school board to put a nonbinding advisory question or survey on the June referendum ballot.

The school board rejected that idea April 25, saying such a vote would undermine the authority of the elected school board.

The Maine Senate passed a bill that would prohibit public schools and colleges from using depictions of Native Americans as mascots, following a similar vote in the Maine House. The bill is expected to reach the desk of Maine Gov. Janet Mills for her signature in the coming days.

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