HALLOWELL — Many of those attending Regional School Unit 2’s virtual public hearing on its 2021-22 spending plan heard discussion revolving around how Richmond’s potential withdrawal from the district would impact the budget.

Nearly 50 participants attended the Zoom hearing Tuesday night and heard RSU 2 Superintendent Tonya Arnold explain the proposed budget. She said it reflects the “vision” of the district.

One participant asked what the process is if the $32.6 million budget — an increase of $985,150 from last year — were to be voted down by voters on June 8.

“The finance committee goes back to work on what we can do and what we can cut, and what people would be willing to cut,” RSU 2 school board Chairperson Jon Hamann said. “That’s what we will have to do.”

If Richmond withdraws from RSU 2, the town would not have a standalone school district until the 2022-23 school year.

Richmond had a public hearing on the withdrawal process Monday. During that, Martha Witham, a former superintendent who is on the Richmond Withdrawal Committee, said only an active school board could come up with a potential budget for the Richmond schools.

The RSU 2 school board estimated what it would cost Richmond for withdrawal, and said it would be similar to its current expense. Residents pay for their share of the school and 20% of the central office staff.

RSU 2 school board member Donna Seppy, who represents Monmouth, said the funding formula would be the same as it is now.

Arnold, who said she lives in Richmond, claimed she heard it would cost the town $7 million to run its buildings and expected her taxes to go up with a withdrawal. But Mark Pearson, a Richmond representative on the RSU 2 school board, said he had not heard that from Richmond officials.

He is in favor of the town withdrawing from the school district. In the current RSU 2 budget proposal, Richmond is asked to contribute $3,756,623 for its part of the local budget.

The other big discussion of the night was about custodial positions and vehicles used by the maintenance crew.

As has been noted at previous school board meetings, Hamann and Arnold said to save money, about $150,000, three custodial positions were eliminated from the budget. They will instead be paid for with coronavirus relief funds.

Resident Rodney Clement asked if those positions would need to be funded once the grant funds end, and Hamann said the school district is not required to keep them.

“There are different durations, some are through the end of the year, some end in 2022 or 2023, but no, we are not required to keep the positions once the grant runs out,” he said. “We will look at each grant-funded position and determine if we need them or not, and eye toward eliminating what we can.”

Arnold noted that the three positions have been vacant for a year now.

“We made a cost neutral goal to reorganize how it’s structured,” she said of the custodial team, adding that three assistant director positions were created to oversee maintenance and project work.

Pearson asked why that change was made.

“Head custodians now focus on cleaning, room set up and being a team leader for the team work,” Arnold said, “and the assistant directors do maintenance projects and repair work and provide the supplies to the things they need.”

Meeting attendee Scott Wing asked how much the assistant directors were getting paid, to which neither Hamann nor Arnold responded.

Richmond resident Bill Branden asked about vehicles he has seen the custodians drive around town.

“We always had vehicles in each of our towns,” Hamann said. “We did not buy any new vehicles. They are part of the budget. They (custodians) do take them home when they are on call. It’s an efficient way to do it rather than pay mileage.”

In an email to the Kennebec Journal, Arnold said the custodians “do not take RSU vehicles home, nor do they have a vehicle assigned to them” but at the administrative level, they can bring the vehicles home on nights and weekends to respond to emergencies. She said the vehicles have “necessary tools” to respond to emergencies.

Arnold, to Hamann’s point, said paying the miles would “be far more costly than what we pay to own a few of our vehicles.”

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