HALLOWELL — Reviewing the Regional School Unit 2 budget for the 2021-2022 school year Monday night, municipal officials asked district leaders if they had a “Plan B” if the spending plan was voted down.

Regional School Unit 2 Superintendent Tonya Arnold, seen during a Zoom school board meeting Sept. 3, 2020. Zoom screenshot

Each of the municipalities served by RSU 2 — Hallowell, Farmingdale, Dresden, Monmouth and Richmond — is looking at at least a 7% tax increase. Nearly all town officials expressed frustration with the school district’s current spending plan.

Monmouth Selectmen Harold Jones said, “How are we going to fix our roads? How are we going to do anything with the increase from the school?”

The school district is proposing spending of $32.57 million in its 2021-2022 budget, compared to current spending of $31.62 million — an overall increase of $946,684 — or 2.99%.

The local share increases total $1.39 million among the five municipalities in the current 2021-2022 budget proposal. The breakdown is:

• Dresden: $1.9 million, an increase of $155,722 — or 8.8% — from its current $1.7 million.

• Farmingdale: $3 million, an increase of $256,092 — or 9% — from its current $2.8 million.

• Hallowell: $3.4 million, an increase of $227,085 — or 7% — from its current $3.2 million.

• Monmouth: $5.6 million, an increase of $492,431 — or 9.5% — from its current $5.1 million.

• Richmond: $3.7 million, an increase of $259,965 — or 7.4% — from its current $3.4 million.

School district officials have said that in order to meet the needs of students, they need to have staffing levels at a greater amount than recommended by the state. The cost for those positions is fully borne on the school district, which is passing that on to the member municipalities.

For example, RSU 2 Superintendent Tonya Arnold said if the school district followed state recommendations, it would cut four of its seven social worker positions. She said those four are “critical during this time.”

“We have maintenance to keep up, we have 10 buildings, we have a higher EPS formula because it’s all calculated on students in one building,” Jon Hamann, chairperson of the RSU 2 school board, said. “Raises to salaries are minimal, we have had a responsible budget in past years of 1% to provide the quality education at the level we do and without making drastic cuts to those programs, we would not be able to reduce the budget.

“It’s not reasonable to ask the school board how you (Monmouth) are going to pay for maintenance,” he added. “That’s not our responsibility.”

During Monday night’s presentation, Arnold said cost increases are from COVID-19 mitigation and safety requirements, salary and benefits — which she said were up 4.62% — to negotiated contracts, insurance rates rising 18%-22%, school nutrition, legal costs and special education.

Hamann said if $1 million was cut from the budget, it would result in at least 12 positions being cut, which he said “is not responsible.” He also said the board has not discussed what it would cut if necessary, noting that contracts are non-negotiable and teachers salaries follow a step schedule.

But municipal officials and residents told the board they need to think about areas for cutting.

“We are all paying more of a fair share, but this is a plan A,” said Dresden Town Clerk Lisa Hewitt. “Does the school board have a Plan B? What if you had to cut a million, have you thought of that? So the towns don’t have to increase their mil rates?”

Hallowell was the only municipality missing from the discussion — at the last RSU 2 finance committee, Mayor George Lapointe expressed his frustration in having Monday night’s RSU 2 meeting fall on the same night as a city council meeting. Lapointe advocated at the last meeting for a cut in the school district’s budget, citing it will interfere with city projects.

Monmouth resident Kris Sanborn, said as a business owner, “sometimes we have to make the decision that things have to go.”

“Twelve people might have to go,” she said. “If you are going to keep things in line and run a corporation, there isn’t a bottomless well.”

Ronney Clement of Monmouth said the $1.3 million increase to the local additional part of the budget is “as deep as an increase in the opposite direction.”

“As concerned as you are on cutting $1.3 million, we are concerned in adding $1.3 million,” he said. “An 8% increase across all five towns, I’m trying to figure out exactly what we spent the 8% on. It’s a huge number.”

Arnold said the state is paying the district $93,835 less than it did this year, the foundational allocation is $45,441 less and RSU 2 is proposing to carry over $500,000 less than it did for the current budget.

A Farmingdale resident participating in the Zoom meeting asked how the school district operated before the coronavirus pandemic, when students were learning in-person five days a week without a steep tax increase.

“I keep hearing the message of, ‘If you don’t do this and you want students back five days a week, we won’t be able to do it unless you pass the budget,'” the Farmingdale resident said. “I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around we were in-person, five days a week, with less of a budget, where did that change?”

Hamann said there are the same number of teachers in the school district as before the pandemic, but the cost to pay for that staff has increased due to “contractual agreements for salary increases.”

Sanborn asked how many central office positions were added this school year. Arnold said she hired a new receptionists with a “combination of grants” and increased a part-time special education secretary to a full-time role.

Town officials also asked why the spending plan was increasing by so much when the school district has received nearly $4 million in coronavirus relief funds. Arnold and Business Manager Vicki Raymond said costs that are currently budgeted cannot be paid for with the COVID-19 relief funds.

Since 2010, Arnold said, the district has seen a total $529,356 decrease — or 4% — in state subsidy, while RSU 2’s spending has increased. This year, it was noted, the subsidy decrease can be attributed to 96 students choosing to be homeschooled versus enrolling in the district.

The RSU 2 Finance Committee was meeting Tuesday night to discuss town feedback to its proposed spending plan, and will meet again Thursday to vote on the budget warrant articles.

Residents in the five RSU 2 member municipalities will decide whether to approve the budget during a June 8 vote.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.