Superintendent Jay Charette, left, and Regional School Unit 38 board Chairperson Shawn Roderick confer during a meeting last year at Maranacook Community Middle School in Readfield. The RSU 38 board of directors on Wednesday approved a $22.9 million budget, after cutting a number of positions to limit the effect on taxpayers. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

READFIELD – The Readfield-area school board on Wednesday finalized the district’s $22.9 million budget, after cutting a number of positions last week in order to minimize the proposed budget’s effect on taxpayers.

The Regional School Unit 38 board of directors approved the budget by a 10-1 vote, with the one dissenting member saying the spending plan is not equitable for all students across the district.

The proposed budget calls for an average tax increase of 8.24% for taxpayers in the district’s four towns, Manchester, Mount Vernon, Wayne and Readfield. The budget now goes to voters at the May 8 referendum, set for 7 p.m. at Maranacook Community Middle School in Readfield.

The lone vote against the budget was from Vice Chair Rebecca Lambert of Readfield, who said the budget is not only too high, but unfair to many of the district’s students.

“A larger portion of the budget is being used on the school that has the smallest population and I don’t think it’s fair to the other five schools in the district,” she said. “I still don’t feel like it’s a prudent increase to most of our vulnerable taxpayers.”  

Lambert was referring to three positions at Wayne Elementary School that the board ultimately chose to keep in the budget — a part-time principal shared with Mount Vernon Elementary School, a nurse, and a guidance counselor.

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The three positions were on a list of potential cuts created by Superintendent Jay Charette to minimize the impact of budgetary increases, and Lambert had in previous meetings called for them to be eliminated.

Wayne Elementary School has 64 of the district’s 1,143 students, according to student enrollment data from the state Department of Education. Readfield Elementary School has 213 students, Mount Vernon Elementary School has 86 students and Manchester Elementary School has 186 students. 

Board member Christine Gatto-Shea of Mount Vernon advocated for the three positions at previous board meetings and said a nurse and guidance counselor are crucial for school success. She pointed out that Wayne Elementary School, along with Mount Vernon Elementary School, are coded as Tier III schools by the Department of Education, acknowledging that they have student populations facing the most significant challenges.

“I know from my special education background that some students require different resources that can be expensive to get everyone to the same place,” Gatto-Shea said. “To me, equality doesn’t mean equal, but everyone gets what they need.” 

The RSU 38 board had a difficult budget season and struggled with managing the increases to spending.

The board at an April 3 meeting heard from members of the public who advocated for world language teaching positions at the middle school, which were on the brink of getting cut. Charette previously had suggested cutting the world languages positions due to low enrollment at the middle school, even though it’s mandatory for a student to take a language at that grade level.

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The board instead decided to cut positions members felt had less of a direct impact on the students, keeping the world languages positions as well as the three positions at Wayne Elementary School, which work directly with the students.

Of the positions ultimately cut by the board, two are being vacated this year by retiring teachers — the high school interventionist and the part-time elementary library education technician. The math education technician interventionist eliminated was an unfilled position, and the six bus aids were not previous funded but had been requested by the transportation department for safety on the bus. The board also eliminated a technology education technician.

Moving forward, the board wants to start the budget process earlier and to find creative ways to deal with costs that keep increasing.

“The trajectory is really concerning,” said board member Annie Seyfried of Manchester. “I don’t think next year will be easier, but maybe if we get on top of it. It did feel a little like a fire sale and rushed last week with such big decisions that impact so many people. I would love to dive into it before January when it’s ‘deadline, deadline, deadline,’ when there is so much at stake. I think it’s problematic.”

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