SKOWHEGAN — Voters in the six towns of School Administrative District 54 head to the polls Tuesday for a final referendum vote on the proposed $36.7 million school budget for the coming year.

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 initially approved the budget in a show-of-hands vote in May, setting the stage for Tuesday’s referendum question in Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Smithfield. Just over 230 people participated in the meeting.

All 18 warrant articles passed with little conflict or comment from the crowd May 20. 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.

SAD 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry said in May that he had heard rumors of voters rejecting the spending plan, but can 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.

Colbry said the overall wage increase in the proposed budget comes in at 2.77%. There are increases in unemployment rates, utility costs, contracted services and Maine State Retirement costs totaling $183,748.

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.

The proposed budget also includes an additional 1.6 special education teachers and four special education ed techs.

“The big change is that we now know our health insurance costs — zero increase,” Colbry said Wednesday. “That was the big unknown. This is an excellent budget.”

Spending lines in the proposed budget include:

• Regular instruction — $13,090,434, up 2.92%
• Special education — $8,474,144, up 3.91%
• Career and technical education — $1,638,377, up 6.27%
• Student and staff support — $2,861,629, up 2.96%
• System administration — $715,450, up 2.49%
• School administration — $1,692,878, up 2.8%
• Transportation and buses — $2,139,735, up 2.15%
• Facilities maintenance — $3,315,951, up 3.4%
• Debt service — $1,977,846, down 2.29%

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