Superintendent Howard Tuttle presented the proposed budget to the RSU 12 school board on Thursday night. Emily Duggan via Zoom

SOMERVILLE — Regional School Unit 12 is feeling the effect of more students opting to learn at home this year.

RSU 12 Superintendent Howie Tuttle told the school board Thursday night it was one of the “most difficult” years the district has seen. He presented his 2021-2022 spending plan to the board, noting a nearly $400,000 reduction in subsidies due to students picking homeschooling this year.

Tuttle is proposing a $24.78 million spending plan, an increase of $993,133 — or 4.1% — from the current year’s budget.

RSU 12 has $370,000 in subsidies, which the superintendent said he thought may be on par with districts statewide. Tuttle said the average subsidy decrease across the state due to students picking homeschooling is 5%; RSU 12 has seen a 7% reduction in funds.

“Student count affects subsidies,” he said. “I was worried about losing subsidies because we were losing students … it creates (an) issue where the budget has not decreased, yet students did. That forces the cost per student to go up.”

For the current academic year, RSU 12 has 1,529 students enrolled. The district is projecting 1,480 students for the 2021-2022 school year due to those who have chosen to homeschool.

The school district, which has had in-person learning five days a week all year, had 46 more students choose to homeschool this year. Tuttle said he believes that is due to the coronavirus pandemic.

RSU 12 didn’t lose funding for those students this year, he said, but expects it will be reflected for 2021-2022 — even if those students return.

For the current budget year, the towns served by the district — Chelsea, Palermo, Somerville, Whitefield and Windsor — contributed a total of $12.55 million in school taxes. The local share proposed for the 2021-2022 budget is $13.99 million — an increase of 11.2%.

Tuttle said the towns’ share typically pays for half of the district spending plan and increases are normal, but noted “it’s one of the most difficult years we have faced.”

“There are a lot of decisions that affect not only next year, but future years,” he said. “The problem with eliminating any one area of the budget, getting it back the next year is so difficult.”

Tuttle noted that no teachers or staff have been laid off, and the district has added a world language teacher, a prekindergarten classroom in Chelsea, a part-time custodian at Whitefield’s school and improved facility maintenance.

RSU 12 will see savings from two retirements, and expects to receive about $50,000 from a new solar farm. Tuttle also expects coronavirus relief money anticipated to arrive in the next couple of months to ease the district’s finances.

The first public meeting on the budget will take place March 10 in Chelsea. The districtwide budget meeting is tentatively planned for May 26, though whether that would be an in-person or Zoom video conferencing meeting remains to be determined. The budget validation referendum will take place June 8.

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