NEWPORT, Maine — Voters in RSU 19 will have their say on the school budget twice in the next five days, first at a districtwide meeting at Nokomis Regional High School tonight and again at the polls Tuesday.
During tonight’s meeting, voters will decide on 15 articles, all related to the eight-town public education budget. During Tuesday’s election, voters will decide on a single question that requests the overall amount needed from local taxes. According to Superintendent William Braun, that number is more than $135,000 higher than the previous year, despite the fact the overall proposed budget of $21.6 million is down 4 percent.
“Overall, this is not a pretty picture for the schools,” said Braun. Because of rising property valuations in the district, the district must spend almost $57,000 more in fiscal year 2011 to qualify for state funding, even though that funding is set to decrease by $1.3 million.
Under the proposed budget, Newport, St. Albans, Palmyra, Plymouth and Etna would see their share of the school budget increase an average of 4 percent. Corinna, Hartland and Dixmont would see an average decrease of 2.3 percent. The total proposed budget is $21,610,403, said Braun.
In order to defray the impact on taxes, the new budget eliminates 14½ teaching and staff positions and closes Palmyra Consolidated School, among other cuts in supply and operations budgets.
“It’s rising valuations that are driving this problem,” said Braun. “We’ve tried to put together a budget that’s fiscally responsible without completely devastating education for our kids.”
But there is a contingent of area residents who are not satisfied with that, including the so-called Committee for Reasonable Taxes, which purchased a half-page advertisement in the May 31 edition of the local Rolling Thunder Express. The headline reads “Stop school tax increases; Vote ‘no’ on RSU-19 2010-2011 budget.”
The text of the advertisement suggests that RSU 19 teachers, who are already proposed to work two days without pay in fiscal year 2011, work at least one additional day without pay.
“In a deep recession no taxes, including school taxes, should be increased,” reads the advertisement. “It is not right to ask taxpayers to make up shortfalls in the subsidy.”
Hadley Smith of Palmyra, whose name appears at the bottom of the advertisement, could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Braun said sentiments such as these have him worried.
“We’re talking about a budget that’s $600,000 less than the previous year,” he said. “I don’t know what else we could do outside of putting 40 kids in every classroom. I don’t think that’s what people want to see in this district. We’re not asking for a whole lot.”
Tonight’s meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the Nokomis Regional High School gymnasium. Tuesday’s vote will be held at polling locations in each town.