MILLINOCKET, Maine — After finishing just a week ago one of the thorniest school budget reviews they have seen, the Millinocket School Committee and Town Council will have to do it all over again.
In an 855-581 vote, residents rejected the proposed $6.98 million school budget after unusually heavy polling activity all day, Town Clerk Roxanne Johnson said at 11 p.m.
The biggest thorn in the process was the council’s decision to cut the committee’s proposed $7.23 million budget by $305,128 on June 2 because councilors wanted to keep the tax rate from increasing.
The council’s cut was so unusual that Superintendent Sara Alberts said that for the first time in her more than 20-year career, she issued a flier addressed to voters urging them to reject a school budget that she said “sends teaching and learning backwards in time.”
Terry Given, a Stearns High School teacher and president of the Millinocket Education Association, the town teachers union, said she had ambiguous feelings about the vote.
“I am really saddened by the turn of events, and the animosity has grown to the point where we can feel the dislike among the members of the two governing boards of our town. It makes me sad,” Given said.
Now the committee must restart the budget process again by resubmitting a budget for council review, council Chairman Scott Gonya said. Then the voters will weigh the budget in another referendum. No date has been set, town officials said.
Earlier in the evening, Gonya had warned that Millinocket could not continue to sustain its educational costs without more cuts or more help from the state. The town, he said, has lost 500 students since 2000, with kindergarten to grade 12 enrollment expected to be 532 students this fall.
“With the state funding based on enrollment, Millinocket has lost a huge amount of state subsidy,” he said. “Until our enrollment numbers start to increase we will continue to lose subsidy.”