CHELSEA — Regional School Unit 12 officials received their first look last week at a preliminary budget showing an 8.35% increase to current spending, due mainly to a proposed change to Maine law and expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposed budget for 2022-23 is $26,522,000, up from $24,477,841 for 2021-22.

“This is a very preliminary budget,” Superintendent Howard Tuttle said. “All the numbers are in, but there are a lot of unanswered questions.”

Tuttle emphasized Thursday night to the RSU 12 board of directors and community members that the budget is in its first stage. He said the district has “overestimated” certain expenses to prepare for a likely increase to health insurance costs for staff members, and a proposed law — L.D. 1789 — that would require schools pay tuition to send students to technical centers.

The board unanimously voted to send a letter to the Maine Legislature stating it opposes the bill, which was introduced by Sen. Chloe Maxmin, D-Nobleboro, who represents District 13.

RSU 12 does not have a high school, so the district has a budget of about $7 million to pay tuition to send students to any of 18 surrounding high schools. The district pays a tuition rate of two-thirds of the total cost — now about $12,000 — to send a student to high school, and has done so for the past 40 years, Tuttle said.


Students in the district, like most students across Maine, can attend the Capital Area Technical Center or Bath Regional Career and Technical  Center. The cost is now covered by state subsidies. If the proposed bill were to become law, however, the district would have to pay the full tuition rate, with the additional one-third of the tuition going to a technical center.

The change could put some school districts, such as RSU 12, in a difficult situation, as they try to come up with the additional money, according to Tuttle. RSU 12 has about 500 students who go to area high schools.

“We are one of the districts impacted the most, simply because we have so many tuition kids and so many that go to the tech center,” Tuttle said. “If they go to Erskine or Gardiner, it doesn’t matter. They can all go to the tech center and we are already paying for it.”

Tuttle said of those students, about 220 are at Erskine Academy in South China, and the rest attend schools in Augusta, Regional School Unit 2 or Gardiner, or they go to Lincoln Academy or Wiscasset High School.

While L.D. 1789 is still being reviewed, Tuttle provided RSU 12 officials an overview on how it, if passed, could cost the district about $330,000 a year, and the district is prepared to have that cost reflected in its budget for next year.

Cost of additional tuition Regional School Unit 12 municipalities would have to pay if L.D. 1789 passes, according to the superintendent.

Maxmin, a graduate of Lincoln Academy in Newcastle, said in her testimony the bill would benefit Lincoln and Erskine academies because they are in the “middle” of being public and private. Students attend for “free,” but because of the “middle status,” the schools are “under-resourced and understaffed.”


“L.D. 1789 addresses one of the hurdles facing town academies: funding for CTE education,” Maxmin wrote in her testimony Thursday.

She said the current two-thirds spending formula limits the income town academies can generate with the extra one-third. Maxmin said if the town academies brought in the extra one-third, it could mean $250,000 annually.

Maxmin said Friday the bill is expected to go through a work session Tuesday and, depending on how it goes, the bill could die or be unanimously passed on for a later vote.

If the bill is voted in, it would be in tact for the 2022-23 school year.

As for the overall budget, the towns in RSU 12 — Alna, Chelsea, Palmero, Somerville, Westport Island, Whitefield and Windsor — would have to contribute $14,353,451 through taxes, accounting for a possible 9.25% increase.

The amount of subsidy the state is expected to pay has increased to 59% from 55%. The number of students the district has lost to home schooling or because they have moved away has increased the subsidy the district is to receive, because the state is considering the district’s two-year student average.


For 2021-22, the district has received $9,049,507 in subsidy. That is expected to increase about 10% in 2022-23, to $9,957,154.

The budget for regular instruction is projected to be the largest line item in the spending plan. With a projected increase of $1,170,444, regular instruction is expected to cost $13,596,178 for the 2022-23 school year. The increase would be attributable in large part to L.D. 1789, which, if passed, would be included in this expense.

Additionally, the RSU 12 board and school administrators are now negotiating with teachers, and said they have “no idea” what to expect or how much health insurance for teachers could increase. Tuttle said the proposed budget includes an estimated 10% increase, although he doubted it would be that large. Realistically, he said, it should be 5% to 6%.

Tuttle said because the budget is preliminary, the RSU 12 board and administrators have yet to decide how to spend leftover coronavirus relief funding totaling $600,000.

So far, the district has used some of the money to pay for a nurse to conduct COVID-19 pool testing; for student and staff support, which has increased $174,388; and for transportation, which has increased $121,652.

The next update to the proposed budget is planned for March, according to Tuttle.

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