READFIELD — The Regional School Unit 38 board of directors Wednesday night approved the budget for 2021-22, but not before board members debated the transparency of how federal coronavirus relief funding has been spent.

The $19.08 million budget, an increase of less than 1%, passed 9-1, with board Chairman Gary Carr voting against the spending plan, saying there should be greater transparency in how federal coronavirus relief money has been used. The adult education budget of $213,000 passed unanimously.

The full budget represents a $175,513 increase, or 0.93%, to current spending.

Officials said the budget is expected to result in decreased spending on schools in three of the four communities in the district.

Carr said he believed information on the coronavirus relief money and how it was spent should be included in the budget so residents see the impact federal grants have on budgets in future years, after COVID-19 funding has ceased.

“The dollars spent is important,” Carr said. “It went to teachers. It went to maintenance, education for teachers. I vote no on the budget.”

Superintendent Jay Charette of Regional School Unit 38 at the March 3 meeting of the district’s board of directors. The meeting was broadcast over Zoom. File Zoom screenshot

Board member Shawn Roderick agreed there should be mention of how the coronavirus relief money was spent so taxpayers know how the money was worked into the budget.

Questions on how the relief money has been spent have also been raised in Hallowell-based Regional School Unit 2, where board members for months have been requesting more information.

At the RSU 38 board meeting Wednesday, Roderick said the budget increase is “so low” because of the federal funding. He added he was worried about the impact it could have on communities when the COVID-19 money ends.

“I appreciate it’s 0%, but what are we building for the future?” Roderick said. “Once you put it in place, you don’t remove it. Once they have a teacher or coach, we can’t remove it. We are taking a million dollars and moving it forward.”

For example, the board decided April 7 to use coronavirus relief funding to help pay for computer purchases and certain staff positions that total about $174,000 in 2021-22 budget. The moves helped keep the budget increase at less than 1%.

The four RSU 38 communities must raise $13,050,674 to help fund the 2021-22 budget, down $128,333 from current spending.

The funding obligations by community:

• Readfield: $3,637,507, an increase of .07%.

• Manchester: $4,065,747, a decrease of 1.29%.

• Mount Vernon: $3,060,797, a decrease of 1.36%.

• Wayne: $2,286,623, a decrease of 1.54%.

Most board members said they agreed with Carr and Roderick on the federal funding concerns. David Twitchell recommended including details of the federal funding in a mailing to taxpayers or posting the information on the district’s website.

“We can say, ‘These are things what were one-time expenditures: We upgraded computers and so on … in ways to make it cheaper down the line,'” he said.

To Roderick’s point about new staff positions, Twitchell said the new hires are related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“These things are taken on,” he said. “They are important for now, and that’s why funds are being used for that.”

Board members voted to include the coronavirus relief funding amounts in the paperwork with the budget.

RSU 38 Superintendent Jay Charette said he would include information on the federal funding with the annual budget on the district’s website. Some board members urged the information also be mailed to residents.

When the board was voting Wednesday night, Carr maintained his opposition to the budget, saying information on the federal coronavirus funding was not in the document on which he and others were deciding.

The annual budget meeting is scheduled for May 19 in the RSU 38 communities. The budget validation vote is set for June 8.

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