FORT KENT, Maine — A small number of voters in SAD 27 approved the district’s $11.5 million budget during a referendum vote on Thursday.
SAD 27 serves Eagle Lake, Fort Kent, New Canada, St. Francis, St. John Plantation, Wallagrass and Winterville. There are five schools in the district.
Lucie Tabor, director of finance for the district, said Friday that only 451 voters showed up at the polls to cast ballots. The budget was approved by 60 percent of those who voted.
This year’s budget is lower than last year, but a reduction in state subsidies for local education was primarily to blame for increased local costs, according to school officials.
The administration announced in February that 17 district employees would be let go at the end of this school year to help reduce expenses. The layoffs will affect every department, including teachers, part-time employees and bus drivers.
Included in the approved budget is $4,431,082 for regular instruction, $1,504,684 for special education, $1,044,942 for student and staff support, $505,613 for transportation and $1,295,112 for facilities maintenance.
Towns in the district will pay $3.9 million toward the local share for education. Property owners in Fort Kent could be looking at a 1.5 to 2 mill increase, depending on this year’s property valuation results, which would be the largest increase in 17 years, according to Town Manager Don Guimond.
There was some controversy surrounding the school board’s decision to hold the referendum vote on the budget two days after statewide elections were held.
School board chairman James O’Malley stressed earlier this week that it was not the intent of the board to circumvent any democratic process.
What some board members feared, he said, was any backlash against a proposed district budget stemming from state referendum questions. Rather, he said, members wanted to ensure that residents who care and are informed decide the budget.
“We recognize it can be an inconvenience to have two votes,” O’Malley said. “But we like the idea that if people are concerned about the school budget and interested in it they will come out and vote.”
This was the second year in a row the school board has opted to hold the budget referendum separate from the June primary.
During Thursday’s election, voters also were asked to decide whether they wanted to continue the school budget referendum process. Residents voted in favor of continuing the process for another three years.