The Regional School Unit 4 central office in Wales is shown Wednesday. District voters in Litchfield, Wales and Sabattus will go to the polls Nov. 7 to decide for a fourth time on a budget for 2023-24. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

WALES — Approving a budget for Regional School Unit 4 for this fiscal year has become not just elusive, but frustrating to many who live and work in the district.

A fourth budget faces public scrutiny at a public meeting Oct. 23 at 6:30 p.m. at Oak Hill High School. The fourth referendum is scheduled Nov. 7 when voters in Wales, Litchfield and Sabattus go to the polls.

The first three budgets approved by the school board were soundly rejected by voters.

The latest one is $21.86 million, $100,000 more than the proposal that failed Oct. 3. In an emergency meeting Oct. 12, the board added back a high school teacher position and a grade four teacher position for a partial year.

Voters opposed to the budgets have been largely focused on the central office budget in public meetings and in online comments on the district website and on social media. The administration has repeatedly said there are no central office positions that can be reduced without affecting district operations.

“There were reductions in teaching positions,” Superintendent Katy Grondin said the day after the last referendum failed. “I think that’s hard for people to understand. Well, you reduce teachers, you didn’t reduce administrators, right?”


The Litchfield Town Office is shown Wednesday where voters will cast ballots Nov. 7 on a Regional School Unit 4 budget for 2023-24. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Grondin said the board carefully considered which positions could be reduced and have the least impact on the quality of education. Nobody was laid off, the positions reduced were open/unfilled positions. Class sizes would be affected by the reductions but were not expected to exceed 18 students per class, she said.

Data from the National Center for Education shows Maine has the smallest class sizes in the nation, with an average of 17 in grades kindergarten to 12.

Tom Wood, a longtime Litchfield resident who volunteers as chairman of the Litchfield Budget Committee, serves on the town’s RSU 4 ad hoc committee. He’s considered a voice of moderation in the sometimes-heated debate over funding the school district.

“There’s a long-term unhappiness with the cost of RSU 4 that came to a head last fall, when the referendum to borrow $32 million to put an addition on one of the buildings in Sabattus,” he said. “That sense that the RSU has been out of touch with the taxpayers has just carried over for the first three attempts to patch the budget for the current fiscal cycle.”

Wood said inflation is hurting a lot of people in Litchfield, especially seniors on fixed incomes. “I think some people are frankly frightened that they don’t know how to make ends meet.”

Without a voter-approved budget, none of the towns sent property tax bills on time. Wales and Sabattus have since sent bills based on the budget presented Oct. 3. Litchfield decided to defer sending bills until after the Nov. 7 vote, according to the town website.


There is also concern that absentee ballots for the Nov. 7 referendum cannot be sent in time to be counted if done via mail, especially for military members deployed out of state or the country. The Maine Secretary of State’s office said it does not oversee municipal elections, but a new law passed this year could come into play next year.

L.D. 1022 is described as “An Act to Extend the Time Allowed Between a Regional School Unit Budget Meeting and a Budget Validation Referendum.” The law does not take effect until Jan. 1, 2024.

Wood said he believes there is some lack of understanding by voters about what the school board faces each budget cycle, including union contracts and mandates from the state and federal governments, which districts must fund.

Oak Hill High School in Wales is shown Wednesday. Voters in Litchfield, Sabattus and Wales will go to the polls Nov. 7 to cast ballots on a fourth budget proposal for 2023-24. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

He said if he had his way, voters would give the board a number and let the school board figure out where to spend it. He said one way the district could possibly save money is increasing class sizes and augmenting teachers in the larger classes with one or more teacher aides, which would cost less than a certified teacher.

Wood said residents who have questions or want to raise their concerns need to attend the Oct. 23 public meeting, adding there is a concerted effort in Litchfield to urge voters to attend. He also said there is an informative question and answer sheet available under the budget tab on the RSU 4 website.

“If there’s a reasonably good exchange between those who come to vote on the actual numbers (that will) appear on the referendum and the school board, I think that there’s a fair chance that it will pass,” he said. “If the people’s unhappiness just carries on, I think there is a fair chance that it’ll fail.”

The Litchfield RSU 4 ad hoc committee is circulating a voter questionnaire asking if the town should leave RSU 4 and form its own district, even if it means an increase in property taxes.

Richmond voted to withdraw from RSU 2 last November and formed its own district.

RSU 2 includes Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell and Monmouth.

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