Last year’s turmoil in MSAD 49, which included demonstrations at Lawrence High School involving an estimated 300 students on April 24, 2019, gave way this year to the coronavirus pandemic. Morning Sentinel file photo

Due to coronavirus-related restrictions on large gatherings, the Maine School Administrative District 49 board of directors held it districtwide budget hearing Tuesday night over YouTube Live.

The board discussed each article over the livestream and invited residents to call in to share comments or suggest amendments. But no one called, according to Jenny Boyden, chairwoman of the board.

“This district generally has robust participation at the budget meeting,” Boyden said Wednesday. “After accounting for the board, superintendent, district staff, moderator and clerks for the towns, we’d be limited to fewer than 30 members of the public. We cannot deny any voters the right to attend and vote.”

Typically, registered voters from each community in the district — Albion, Benton, Clinton and Fairfield — meet at the gymnasium at Lawrence High School and vote on each article.

Residents are scheduled to vote on the budget July 14, the same day as the statewide election.

The proposed 2020-21 school budget for MSAD 49 is $27,843,591.11

It represents a $726,144.71, or 2.68%, increase to current spending. The increase is largely attributable to costs related to special education and to pay increases for district employees covered by union contracts, according to Boyden.

Salary increases for unionized employees total about $307,000. 

Boyden said 85% of staff in the district is covered by collective bargaining agreements.

Special education represents the largest increase in the budget, up 11.5% from current spending.

The total proposed budget for special education is $5,267,947.64.

The proposed spending plan also includes:

• $11,008,203.32 for regular instruction.

• $3,990,514.62 for facilities management.

• $2,560,318.45 for student and staff support.

• $1,884,715.70 for buses and other transportation.

• $1,479,637.55 for school administration.

• $947,151.59 for system administration.

• $705,102.24 for other instruction.

“(The budget) reflects the board’s work to balance needs and resources, while making sure to support students’ educational needs,” Boyden said. “The impact to mil rates is less than 0.35 in each of the towns (in the district).”

Voters will be asked July 14 to vote on 16 articles related to the school, and on questions related to a school nutrition program, adult education, an additional state subsidy and a capital reserve fund.

Last year’s budget of $27.12 million was passed after failing to win voter approval in June and July.

The district was forced to operate for a month under an interim $27.15 million budget until voters approved the 2019-20 spending plan.

The 2019 referendum followed a year of instability that included resignations of seven teachers, the superintendent, the principal and assistant principal at Lawrence High school and three school board members from Fairfield.

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