SKOWHEGAN — Voters have given the first nod of approval to a $36.7 million School Administrative District 54 budget, up 3% from the current allotment.

SAD 54, which includes Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Smithfield, held a district hearing on the budget Monday night in the Skowhegan Area High School gymnasium. It will now go to referendum on June 11.

Just over 230 people participated Monday night.

It had been rumored that supporters of the recently banned “Indians” nickname would attempt to vote down the budget to protest the move away from the Native American mascot — if not at the district hearing, then during the referendum. The group voiced a challenge to the budget at an informational session May 2 and expressed frustration after the school board rejected placing a nonbinding advisory question on whether or not citizens wished to keep the “Indians” nickname on the June referendum ballot. There was no disapproval for the budget voiced at Monday’s hearing. Still, officials will have to start the budget process over again if it is not approved in June.

The full budget figure, at $36,767,926, is up a total of $1,070,339 from the 2018-2019 budget. Of that increase, nearly 88% ($938,748) is due to rising salaries for the district’s employees. Contracted services, fuel and utility costs, Maine State Retirement and unemployment compensation rates account for most of the other increases.

Voters did not seem to take much issue with the proposal on Monday. All 18 warrant articles passed with little conflict or comment from the crowd. The only written-ballot vote, which was to approve $1,322,791.24 more spending than the state calculated through its Essential Programs and Services allocation model, passed 208-25. A handful of voters rejected an article to authorize the school board to spend grant money on “school and other program purposes … (that) do not require the expenditure of other funds not previously appropriated.” Still, it overwhelmingly passed.

Voters handily approved the $8.5 million Special Education article on Monday, which involves hiring 1.6 teachers and four educational technicians for the district’s special education program.

While still awaiting final approval in June, the district hopes that a total of $14,240,284 of the budget will be raised through local taxes. Skowhegan is looking at a 2.29% decrease in its local share from this year, which totals $9,008,404, while all other municipalities in the district will see increases in the local share based on changes in town valuations. Cornville will see the largest percentage increase in the local share, up 7.3% from last year, but still among the lowest in the district at a total of $798,880. Smithfield’s share is increasing 4.85% from last year, at $1,065,173. Canaan is up 4.46% at $1,053,781; Mercer is up 4.45% at $562,491 and Norridgewock is up 4.2% at $1,751,555.

SAD 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry

The letter of transmittal to SAD 54 voters notes that there have been five increases in local assessments across the districts since 2004-05 and that this year’s local assessment is still $125,520 less than the local share five years ago.

Residents approved the formation of the Kennebec Alliance Regional Service Center, an updated partnership between SAD 54 and Regional School Unit 18 that meets state requirements to allow participating districts to access a certain subsidy. The Legislature introduced this policy in 2017 to save money by encouraging collaboration between schools. Voters from RSU 18 supported this measure during the Oakland-based district’s May 16 hearing.

Superintendent Brent Colbry said the subsidy SAD 54 would gain access to would be roughly $100,000, similar to the figure RSU 18 Superintendent Carl Gartley estimated for his district.

“For years and years and years RSU 18 and SAD 54 have had — we buy groceries together for the food program, we buy paper products, so that already exists,” Colbry said. “By formalizing that, we can pick up roughly a $100,000 additional subsidy for the next budget year.”

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