FAIRFIELD — The Maine School Administrative District 49 school board has sent the district’s 2021-22 budget proposal to local towns for approval.

The spending plan features a 0.76% decrease to the operating budget from the year before. 

“I appreciate the effort put in by the Board and district administrators to recommend a budget that maintains services for our students while recognizing the unique economic situation resulting from the pandemic,” said Clinton school board member Jenny Boyden in an email. 

MSAD 49 serves the towns of Fairfield, Clinton, Benton and Albion, and the residents of each town will vote on a referendum for the budget on Tuesday, June 8.  

Residents will vote on three articles on the referendum: first, the operating budget for the district totaling $27,633,228 (that’s the portion with 0.76% decrease); second, the district nutrition plan funding for $49,786; and third, funding for the district adult education program coming in at $276,694. 

Those three articles together amount to $27,979,709 — although that is before state funding, so not the number taxpayers will be responsible for. 

“The budget reflects the Board’s work to balance the needs and resources while making it a priority to support our students’ educational needs,” Fairfield school board Chair Danielle Boutin said in an email. 

The school board held a remote public hearing May 6, but no members of the public called in to speak. 

The decrease to the operating budget was important to the school board, and means that it should have a low impact on each town’s mill rate. It was possible because of an increase in federal funding used to pay some expenses — but that money might not be available next year, so residents shouldn’t expect to see this same decrease in the future. 

“There are no layoffs in this budget,” Boyden said. “We were able to maintain services, even with a lower operating budget, due to the influx of federal funding.  For next year, we are able to move a number of positions to federal funding. This funding is time-limited. It may be necessary to bring these costs back into the operating budget in future years.” 

Now, looking at the funds the towns must raise, the state of Maine calculates the minimum amount of money the district must raise to receive the full amount of state assistance — for this year that is $22,648,438. Of that money, local municipalities must raise $7,476,428.  

The district feels that the state’s number isn’t enough for the district to operate, so in addition they include raising $3,473,778 in additional local funds. So the total money the four towns will raise for the operating budget is $10,950,206. 

That $10.95 million is then divided between the four towns. While the budget is a slight decrease, the town contribution may not be, because for several towns the state subsidy has decreased. There are multiple factors for that, including that the numbers are based on enrolled students as of October 2020. 

For example, Clinton’s portion of the operating budget is $2,382,190 — an increase of $30,101.  

That decrease in state aid was part of why it was important to the board that the budget they presented did not include further increases, Boutin said. 

“The board understands the financial difficulties our district resident voters may be having due to the pandemic,” Boutin said. “We wanted the budget to be as fair as possible while taking that into consideration, while understanding that the district’s state funding was decreased.” 

Benton and Albion are in the same situation as Clinton, as their portion of the operating budget has increased. Albion’s share is $1,603,297, an increase of $13,306; while Benton’s share is $2,451,613, an increase of $22,400. 

For the proposed operating budget, Fairfield still has the largest share of the four towns at $4,513,105, but that is a decrease of $91,685. 

For the other two sections of the budget — the nutrition and adult education program — the municipalities are responsible for the entirety of the roughly $49,000 for the nutrition program, but only $140,000 of the adult education program.  

Those costs are similarly divided up among the four towns. 

Each town holds a separate election referendum for the budget, although it must pass based on a majority of all district voters, not by individual towns. If the budget were not to pass, the whole process would begin again. 

Voters have rejected the district’s budget before. In 2019 residents voted down the proposed budget twice before passing a third version in September. In 2020, voters approved the budget in the first election. 

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