BUCKSPORT, Maine — Regional School Unit 25 cleared a major organizational hurdle Tuesday night as voters from Bucksport, Orland, Prospect and Verona Island approved the $14.9 million school budget for the coming year.
Voter turnout was light, but there was strong support for the budget and most budget articles passed unanimously and without much discussion. Voters did question why programs such as the freshman football and basketball teams had been cut from the budget and asked whether there were any way to add funds to the budget to reinstate those programs.
Superintendent Jim Boothby explained that the RSU board had cut more than $700,000 from the original budget proposal, which had included the funds for those two teams. The only way to reinstate those programs, he said, was to amend the recommended amount in the “Other Instruction” line in the budget, which includes funds for extracurricular and co-curricular activities.
No motion was forthcoming, and voters approved the recommended amount in that account, $438,752.
One voter later asked whether federal stimulus funds could be used to reinstate those programs. The RSU will receive $342,660 in stimulus funds for the coming year. Boothby said those funds could be used only in specific areas and that they had been included in the budget.
Bucksport Councilor Mike Ormsby asked whether the stimulus funds had been spent on programs that would have to be continued after the federal funds dried up.
Boothby said the RSU board was conscious of the fact that there will be a significant decrease in funding in the future and that the stimulus funds would not always be there. He said they tried to use those funds on one-time purchases for programs, or to use them on programs that would generate revenues in the future.
The K-12 budget totaled $14,698,984. Voters also approved the $262,260 adult education budget for the coming year.
The school budget represents a decrease of $1,881,366 from the current combined school budgets for the RSU member towns. Much of that reduction came from tuition payments, Boothby said. The two towns in SAD 18, Prospect and Verona Island, paid tuition to Bucksport for all their students to attend school there, and the town of Orland paid tuition for some of its high school students.
“That was an expense for those towns, and it was a revenue for Bucksport, so that was a wash,” he said. “Now everyone is sharing the total cost of education.”
Just 83 residents from the four towns attended the budget meeting, 34 from Orland, 37 from Bucksport, five from Verona Island and seven from Prospect. In the only written ballot of the evening, on the question of whether to raise additional local funds in excess of what was required by the state Essential Programs and Services model, the vote was 67-7.
In response to questions, Boothby explained that the balance forward, or surplus from each of the member towns, had been used to reduce the local appropriation in each of the towns. That will not be the case next year. Since there will be just one budget, there will be just one balance forward at the end of the next school year.
The towns had varying amounts of surplus this year and that is reflected in the local appropriation in each town. The local appropriation for Bucksport is $5,378,158.37, a decrease of $68,334.13. The other three towns saw an increase in their local appropriation.
For Orland, the amount to be raised from taxes will be $2,280,443.60, an increase of $366,235.60; for Prospect, $394,265, an increase of $33,069; and for Verona Island, $422,812, an increase of $32,476.
The budget still faces one more vote, the budget validation vote required by the state. That referendum vote will be held June 9 in each of the member towns.
According to Boothby, the RSU also will need to complete the transfer of properties from the individual towns to the RSU. Those properties that will be transferred to the RSU were identified in the district plan, which voters approved last year.
The RSU board also has to complete the transition of financial operations, melding the three sets of books into the one RSU system by the start of the new school year on July 1.