HANCOCK, Maine — Regional School Unit 24 has a budget for the coming year.
Voters from the 12 towns that make up the RSU approved the $32 million budget during the district’s budget meeting on Tuesday. A total of 128 registered voters representing all of the member towns participated in the meeting.
According to Superintendent Bill Webster, there was an early attempt to reduce the instructional line of the budget from around $11 million to $6 million by some of the residents from Steuben. That attempt, which Webster said would have had “dire consequences” for all the schools in the district, failed and the rest of the budget was approved.
The whole budget was approved unanimously.
On the surface, the overall budget of $32,367,000 represents a decrease of 4.4 percent from the total paid last year by all the towns. The decrease, however, reflects the elimination of tuition payments, which had been an expense for many of the towns who paid tuition to send students to high school. But those tuition payments will be eliminated as revenue to some of the member schools, Webster noted.
A true comparison of “apples to apples,” he said shows a budget increase of about 2.2 percent.
“This budget … maintains existing programs with some modest improvements,” Webster said. “It also includes funds to expand the Maine laptop program to provide one-on-one computering for all high school students.”
The budget increase will be offset by a one-time surplus in many of the member towns, he said.
The Union 96 towns also will receive a one-time credit to reimburse those towns for funds they had raised to pay teachers through the summer. Beginning on July 1 the RSU will begin paying salaries for all teachers in the district.
The surplus and credits affect the local assessment in each of the towns and the amount each town will have to raise through property taxes. Most will see a decrease in the local assessment from the current year.
Webster cautioned that the RSU will likely receive less state and federal funding next year, specifically with the reduction of federal stimulus funds, and that it will be looking at ways to make cuts in next year’s budget.
“We’re strongly recommending that the towns establish a reserve fund to lessen the impact of anticipated increases in assessments in future years,” Webster said.
By passing the budget as recommended, he said, the voters gave the RSU board the time to look at the schools and programs in the new district and the programs they have and to make adjustments to the budget in a thoughtful way rather than have to do it quickly.
RSU board members had expressed dismay at having to make budget decisions “under the gun” in order to meet the state imposed deadline of having the RSU up and running by July 1.
The budget still faces another hurdle. The approved budget will go to a budget validation vote scheduled for June 9. Although voting will be done in the individual towns, the results will be totaled for the RSU.
There have been cases where voters have approved a budget at the budget meeting and then rejected it at town meeting. Webster said that it was important to support the budget that voters already had approved.
“If the budget is turned down, we would have to go back and make program cuts that likely will have an impact on all the schools in the RSU,” he said.
Meanwhile, the RSU board is working to get the financial operations in place by July 1. They plan to consolidate the central office functions to the Mill Mall in Ellsworth sometime in June and board committees are working on educational programs and reviewing bids for work to be done this summer.
He said the board recently accepted a proposal from the Maine School Management Association to provide facility and liability insurance. That agreement will cost the RSU about $68,000 less than the same policies would have cost the member schools if they had remained separate, he said.