After several rounds of debate, the Gardiner-area school board is expected to give final approval of a budget that cuts local assessments to three of the four municipalities in the district.

At the same time, the proposed spending plan includes adding three positions — a social worker, literacy coach and math coach.

Officials at School Administrative District 11 are proposing a budget that totals $26,160,992.52, which is 1.72% or nearly $443,000 higher than a year ago.

That pays for salary and benefits for the district’s employees, the costs of teaching students, maintaining the buildings and transportation, among other things.

District officials are expecting to use funds from a variety of sources to cover those costs including state education money, surplus funds, tuition paid to the district and transportation fees.

Taxpayers in Gardiner, Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner will be asked to pay $9.97 million, about $30,000 less than what was requested a year ago.

The requests break down this way:

• Gardiner, $3.7 million, a decrease of 0.33% or $12,391.37

• Pittston, $2.6 million, an increase of 0.15% or $3,301.29

• Randolph, $947,155.04, a decrease of 1.01% or $9700.87

• West Gardiner, $3,147,081, a decrease of 0.28% or $8,789.52

The school board vote on this budget, as well as the the adult education and nutrition budgets, is expected later this month.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Finance Committee debated the proposal, which had been scaled back from earlier versions, after the full school board sent it back to the committee last week.

At issue is whether the district can afford to add the three positions at a time when cuts to state aid are expected. State tax revenues have taken a dive during the past two months, as businesses across Maine deemed nonessential have been closed to slow the spread of coronavirus. As a result, sales, lodging and other taxes generated by business activities have flat-lined.

District officials have received a consultant’s recommendation that adding educational coaches for teachers will help both educators and students.

The Gardiner-area school district closed down its buildings in mid-March and has been offering distance learning for its students. As it now stands, when the new school year starts later this year, in-person teaching is expected to resume. If that happens, both teachers and students will have been out of a classroom learning setting for about six months.

Veronica Babcock, board vice president and a representative from Gardiner, said all three positions were requested a year ago and didn’t make the cut.

“I support these positions fully,” she said. “I am aware of the burden to taxpayers, and I am listening to (Angela Hardy, director of curriculum and instruction) explain the work of the coaches. Their work with teachers will make sure the teachers are not overwhelmed.”

John Umland, a board member from Gardiner, said he supported adding only the social worker.

“The analysis was completed in a different time, and adding them is unwise at this time,” he said. “Coaches are coaching teachers, they are not hands-on with students.”

Hardy said one coach has been working in the district already, both with teachers individually and in groups providing opportunities for professional development and with teachers and students.

Matthew Marshall, who represents Gardiner, said the board can make decisions only on what it knows now, anticipating a return to in-class education at the start of the next school year.

The Finance Committee, with Umland voting no, will send the budget proposal to the full board for consideration. The date for that meeting has not been set.

Even as this budget, and spending plans for the nutrition program and adult education undergo their final reviews, district officials are working out how to conduct the districtwide vote.

While that vote usually takes place in the Gardiner Area High School gymnasium, restrictions on public gatherings are likely to require different arrangements.

District Superintendent Patricia Hopkins said the target date for the vote is June 23.

“The Department of Education is outlining how we conduct the vote,” Hopkins said. “We can have no more than 50 people in one place. We have to have a plan in place to adhere to the executive order to ensure adequate social distancing. We can have some people in the gym, some in the library and other overflow in the little theater.”

The referendum vote is scheduled to take place on July 14, coinciding with the state’s primary election.

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