HALLOWELL — School officials and board members from Regional School Unit 2 met Tuesday night with municipal officials from across the region to present and discuss next year’s education budget before it’s finalized.

It’s a step that drew praise from municipal officials who were reeling from sudden budget increases of the past year and said they felt the district wasn’t being transparent enough.

The district’s proposed budget is $33,770,829, which is a 3% increase over the current spending plan, or a difference of $984,671.

Talks to include the municipal officials started during the budget process last year, after the municipalities collectively saw an increase of $1.3 million to the local contribution part of the school budget. Last year’s budget, for the current school year, narrowly passed with a 51-vote margin.

“I wanted to express my gratitude for sharing (the budget) as early as possible,” Kent Ackley, a Monmouth Select Board member, said during the Tuesday night gathering at the school district’s central office. “I understand it is still in process and not entirely accurate, but it gives select board members, like myself and my colleagues, an opportunity to anticipate exactly what the direction of the school board is, and what the impact for local taxpayers is.”

Ackley was joined by other members from the Monmouth board, as well as town officials from Richmond, and asked most of the questions pertaining to the budget and how it would impact his town’s taxpayers. Dresden, Farmingdale and Hallowell make up RSU 2 as well, while Richmond is in the process of pursuing withdrawal from the district and is aiming to hold a vote on the matter this coming November.

Advertisement

Stephanie Saltzman, the business manager who is new to the district this year, broke the budget down and discussed increases for each cost center, in addition to explaining the revenue services and how each municipality’s costs are broken down, which is by property value average from the past three years.

With the proposed budget for next year, the municipalities’ local allocations are almost half of what the requests were from last year’s budget. For an example, last year RSU 2 asked Monmouth for a 9% increase to its contribution, whereas this year the increase is 5%.

“There’s a reason why folks are super interested in this,” Ackley said. “It’s all property tax-driven and property taxes have nothing to do with someone’s ability to pay, unlike sales tax and income tax, so this is the one. This is the ‘biggie.'”

Here’s how the town allocations are currently projected in the budget proposal:

• Monmouth, $5,680,127 — an increase of 5.4%, or a difference of $289,424 from the amount paid last year.

• Richmond, $3,773,118 — an increase of 5.5%, or a difference of $195,275 from the amount paid last year.

Advertisement

• Farmingdale, $3,120,998 — an increase of 7.2%, or a difference of $209,623 from the amount paid last year.

• Dresden, $1,957,170 — an increase of 6.8%, or a difference of $123,892 from the amount paid last year.

• Hallowell, $3,426,904 — an increase of 4.6%, or a difference of $151,746 from the amount paid last year.

The overall proposed budget for next year is less of an increase, but Saltzman also said the state is contributing 60.3% in comparison to last year’s budget that had a state contribution of 55%. The RSU 2 voters decided to send the additional money received from the state last year back to voters, since the state’s money was received after the budget was finalized.

Saltzman emphasized that the proposed budget is close to being finalized, but the district is still waiting on specific numbers regarding health insurance costs and finalizations to contract negotiations for staff members. Once the district has those numbers, which she predicts should be next week, the budget proposal will be more concrete.

“Some of the driving factors are increases to health, dental, property and liability insurance. If those are going up for you, they are going up here too, they are going to cost more,” she said. “Then with gas and electricity, those are going up, too. No one (in the district) really asked for more.”

Advertisement

Saltzman went on to mention the ways in which the district is trying to combat the rising gas prices, including asking the town of Monmouth if the school district’s buses could use the town’s oil yard to fill the buses’ gas tanks as a way to save money. Whether or not the district will have the ability to use the Monmouth oil yard is still being discussed with Monmouth town officials.

As for the individual cost centers of the budget, the payroll system the district uses is driving up the system administration part of the budget by 27% to $1,005,458, or a difference of $216,425, and is among the largest increases. Saltzman said updating the system “has to happen” because without it, the district would not have any program to use.

The regular instruction cost center is proposed at an increase of 1.63% at $12,457,801, or a difference of $200,079 from last year’s budget. Special education is proposed to go up 3.05% to $5,434,931, or a difference of $160,696 from last year.

The next RSU 2 budget meeting will be Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the Richmond High School cafeteria. The regular business meeting is set to follow at 6 p.m., over Zoom and in-person.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login 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.