CHELSEA — The Regional School Unit 12 board of directors’ recent unanimous approval of the budget for next year marks a spending plan with one of the highest percentage increases the district has seen, officials said.

On April 14, RSU 12 directors approved a $25,592,116 budget — an increase of 4.5%, or a difference of $1,114,275, over the previous year.

The budget will be presented May 25 at 6:30 p.m. at Chelsea Elementary School, where district residents can vote on the various warrant items. The finalized budget then heads to voters in each community June 14.

Superintendent Howie Tuttle said the 4.5% budget increase is one of the highests the district has presented, but that it is mainly due to inflation and rising costs. The district was able to cut the budget in other areas, though, using COVID-19 relief funds and through increased state subsidy.

“We built the budget around energy costs,” Tuttle said. “We are going through contract negotiations with teachers and since the lowest amount a teacher can make is $40,000 by state law, that is a huge chunk of an increase. The 4.5% is one of the biggest increases we have had.”

Other school districts in the Augusta-area have had similar experiences, like Readfield-based RSU 38 and Gardiner-area Maine School Administrative District 11, with 5% increases projected to their school budgets next year.

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When the budget was first presented to the board in February, RSU 12 officials were preparing for the worst with an 8.35% increase that was cut subsequently when legislative bill L.D. 1789 died in the state Senate. If the bill passed, it would have cost the district $336,000 to pay full tuition to send students to technical schools when currently, the district pays two-thirds tuition, or about $12,000 per student.

The district expects an increase in state subsidy this year — 10.02% more, equalling $9,957,154, or an increase of $907,646. Additionally, $700,000 of COVID-19 relief money has been injected into the budget. The district also saved $73,872 from the initial proposal because health insurance costs did not increase as much as originally predicted.

Having a nurse in each school building, maintaining a reasonable class size, retaining the district’s food nutrition program for all students and keeping social worker services are among some of the goals the district had in mind when creating next year’s budget, officials said.

Superintendent Tuttle said the district is down 70 students from pre-pandemic levels.

Officials budgeted $28,000 to move the Windsor Elementary School pre-kindergarten program to Somerville Elementary School as a way to accommodate more students. Tuttle said Chelsea and Whitefield elementary schools have their own pre-kindergartens, but Palermo Consolidated and Windsor Elementary schools have “spillover.” He said students at Palermo are already bussed over to the Somerville classroom.

The new space at Somerville Elementary School can hold up to 32 students and the money budgeted will go toward paying a teacher.

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“The proposal is, we have two classrooms at Somerville,” Tuttle said at the April 14 board meeting. “We would not have the Windsor classroom at Windsor, that room would be used for other things. And all pre-kindergarten kids for Windsor would hop on the shuttle bus and head to Somerville.”

The local contribution for the budget is $13,372,488, with most municipalities paying roughly 2.5% more than last year. The contribution from each of the seven towns is calculated using number of students and town valuation. If the budget is approved:

• Alna would pay $1,071,346 — an increase of 2.6% or $28,080 over last year.

• Chelsea would pay $2,662,582  — an increase of 2.3% or $61,037 over last year.

• Palermo would pay $2,030,679 — an increase of 2.6% or $52,687 over last year.

• Somerville would pay $696,957 — an increase of 2.5% or $17,222 over last year.

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• Westport Island would pay $886,133 — an increase of 2.8% or $24,285 over last year.

• Whitefield would pay $2,513,023 — an increase of 2.5% or $63,098 over last year.

• Windsor would pay $3,511,766 — an increase of 2.4% or $82,979 over last year.

For the transportation portion of the budget, the district would pay $1,500,738, a 5% increase over last year. With COVID-19 relief funds, the district was able to purchase a bus.

Tuttle said the district has budgeted for higher fuel costs. Since the district does not have a high school, it has to transport students to the high school of their choosing, which can be anywhere from Erskine Academy in South China to Hall-Dale High School in Farmingdale.


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