HOULTON, Maine — The SAD 29 board is hoping more education about the 2009-10 district budget and the process involved in passing it will improve support for it.
The $11.5 million budget was turned down by voters during a June 16 referendum. A tiny percentage of the district’s voters showed up at the polls and voted 80-71 in opposition.
SAD 29 consists of the towns of Houlton, Hammond, Littleton and Monticello.
Superintendent Steve Fitzpatrick said Tuesday that the school board gathered afterward to consider amendments to the budget. So far, however, the board has not made any changes.
The board will meet to consider the fiscal forecast once more before the district budget meeting, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 14, at the Southside School. Fitzpatrick said an informational session, which he urged the public to attend, will be held at 5:30 that night so he can answer questions.
“The board decided not to make any changes to the budget because they felt a responsibility to the students of this district,” Fitzpatrick said Tuesday. “They felt that this budget is one that is absolutely necessary to meet our needs and to provide our students with a quality education.”
Fitzpatrick pointed out that, over the past two years, the district has been able to hold its budget at approximately $11.2 million by implementing cuts and cost-saving measures.
This year’s proposed budget has increased $271,384 over the 2008-09 budget. Fitzpatrick attributed that in part to contracts being renegotiated this year and in 2010.
Last year, the district bought one school bus instead of two, and SAD 29 saw maintenance fees for its bus fleet increase. Energy costs also were a factor.
The superintendent said Littleton was the only town in SAD 29 this year that saw an increase in the local assessment for education. Fitzpatrick attributed that to an increase in the town’s valuation.
He added that Houlton’s assessment decreased by more than $21,000 this year, while Hammond’s decreased by approximately $7,000. The assessment to Monticello dropped by more than $4,000.
“The board has worked hard to reduce the assessment to taxpayers while preserving the quality education we offer here,” said Fitzpatrick.
The superintendent said he believes the budget did not pass because taxpayers did not have enough information about it. He also said he felt some voters did not understand the new process that has been put in place by the state in order to get the school budget passed.
Before the school consolidation law, taxpayers simply voted on a budget at the annual district budget meeting. Now, residents must approve the budget at a public meeting before it goes to all district voters, who must validate it during a referendum.
Fitzpatrick stressed that it is crucial for SAD 29 voters to get informed about the budget and urged residents to attend the July 14 informational session and budget meeting.
Another referendum vote is tentatively scheduled for July 21.