Voters to decide on $35.5 million budget in RSU 9

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The Regional School Unit 9 board votes Tuesday evening. The board later set the budget at $35.5 million.

FARMINGTON – Regional School Unit 9 school board directors approved a $35.5 million K-12 budget and a $398,000 Adult Basic Education budget Tuesday evening, scheduling the district-wide budget meeting for May 7 and the validation referendum for May 15.

Directors approved two increases to the K-12 budget, bringing it to $35,547,403. That would represent an increase of $1.9 million over the current fiscal year or 5.68 percent. The increases approved Tuesday evening include an additional $138,000 to expand a proposed alternative elementary education program from K-2 to K-5 and $33,000 to cover an increase in health insurance costs.

The budget would be funded by roughly $13.5 million from local town assessments and $21 million from the state allocation, an increase of $750,000. Also included in the budget, in addition to miscellaneous revenue, is $288,000 in funds donated by Richard Bjorn to benefit the Foster Career & Technical Education Center.

The local assessments would provide an additional $792,000. Most of that, $588,000, would fall under the category of Local Required Contribution: the minimum amount of funds the towns need to provide to receive full state subsidy. That is due to the educational mill rate increasing from 8.19 to 8.51. The other $200,000 would represent Additional Local Allocation: funds raised above and beyond the state’s Essential Programs and Services funding model.

The budget would result in a 6.25 percent increase in local assessments. Specifically, Chesterville would see a $116,428 increase to $1.05 million, or 12.4 percent; Farmington would see a $248,819 increase to $4.77 million, or 5.5 percent; Industry would see a $104,147 increase to $924,000, or 12.7 percent; New Sharon would see a $48,311 increase to $1.05 million, or 4.8 percent; New Vineyard would see a $42,515 increase to $743,000, or 6.1 percent; Starks would see an $83,029 increase to $463,000, or 21.8 percent; Temple would see a $6,129 increase to $425,000, or 1.5 percent; Vienna would see a $36,470 increase to $722,000, or 5.3 percent; Weld would see a $60,815 increase to $524,000, or 13.1 percent; and Wilton would see a $46,227 increase to $2.82 million, or 1.7 percent.

The Pathways for All Learners program is the district’s proposed response to dysregulated students in the elementary grades. The PALs program, initially presented as impacting grades K-2, would utilize a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, a social worker, a teacher and three Ed Techs to teach a cohort of eight students from across the district. Principals have said they believed that students would graduate from the program when possible and return to their regular classrooms, with an additional eight to 10 students entering the program when spots became available.

Directors discussed whether to initially encompass the grades of 3, 4 and 5 in PALs first year. Directors expressed concern that making the program too big might impact its development, while others cited the needs at the higher grade levels. The extra $138,000 would fund one teacher and three Ed Techs, plus some material and professional development costs. The BCBA and social worker would split their time between the K-2 and 3-5 programs; the second program could be located in Wilton, due the needs of students at those grade levels.

The vote on whether to include the grades 3 through 5 in PALs passed with nine directors in favor and seven opposed, with a weighted vote of 581 in favor and 420 opposed.

Directors also approved the inclusion of $33,000 to cover increases in health insurance costs. The new budget had included a 5 percent increase for those costs, a typical placeholder figure in the RSU 9 budget process, but the actual costs outstripped it by the $33,000.

Directors unanimously approved adding a Cascade Brook School teacher for Grade 3. Funding for that position had already been included in the preliminary draft budget prior to Tuesday’s meeting. The teacher, bringing the Grade 3 to five teachers total in an effort to reduce class sizes from the 25- or 26-student level. The district previously provided out of contingency for two Ed Techs to assist those large classes; funding for those positions was not included in this budget.

Director Betsey Hyde of Temple questioned the size of the $750,000 increase, after accounting for extra funding provided by the state, MaineCare and the Bjorn donation.

“I personally feel that we’re out of step asking for this much more from our taxpayers right now,” Hyde said.

Director Irving Faunce of Wilton said that he felt the budget represented the needs of the district. “This is a budget that has the maximum impact on students,” Faunce said.

Other directors said that the town assessment impact would be similar to the one in 2015-16. Town assessments due to RSU 9, calculated across the entire district, have decreased roughly 2 percent in each of the two previous fiscal years.

The vote to approve the $35.5 million budget passed with 13 directors in favor and 3 directors – Driector Craig Stickney of Chesterville, Director Jesse Sillanpaa of Industry and Director Jeff Harris of New Sharon – opposed.

The vote to approve the adult education budget at $398,254 was unanimous. That represents a $22,000 increase over the current fiscal year. Of that budget, $174,000 is raised through the local allocation, an increase of $6,000 over the previous fiscal year.

Directors set the annual, district-wide budget meeting for Monday, May 7, at 7 p.m. at the Mt. Blue Campus. The referendum would be held the following week on Tuesday, May 15 in all 10 towns. The budget will be set at the May 7 meeting, while the May 15 referendum asks if voters either approve or reject that budget.

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