Millinocket voters OK $7.1M school budget

Posted Sept. 15, 2010, at 8:49 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 11:29 a.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — Residents voting Tuesday in a third special referendum made sure the Millinocket School Committee’s wish to keep a vice principal at Stearns High School was honored, officials said Wednesday.

Voters approved the $7.1 million 2010-11 school budget in a 316-120 tally, Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said.

Conlogue said the budget conforms to the Town Council’s wish that property taxes not increase because of school costs, while new school Superintendent Ken Smith called it an expression of Millinocket’s wish to maintain a quality educational system.

“It shows the tremendous support the area has for the school system,” Smith said Wednesday. “Like anybody else, I try to read what the numbers say on votes. It’s clear that they [residents] want to have a good school system.”

In the second referendum on the budget on Aug. 3, voters rejected the budget 358-141. That vote came a few weeks after the Town Council decided 4-3 to cut the committee’s proposed budget by about $64,000, effectively removing the assistant principal position.

The approved budget restores that position, which the school committee filled by hiring Kelley Weiss, a science teacher who comes from the Old Town school system, Smith said. Weiss started her new job on Monday. Her exact salary figure was unavailable on Wednesday. The $64,000 represents the total cost of the position, not just salary.

The council voted to cut an earlier committee-proposed budget of $7.23 million by $305,128 on June 2 because councilors wanted to keep the tax rate from increasing.

The council’s first cut was so unusual that then-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 budget that she said “sends teaching and learning backwards in time.”

Voters apparently agreed with her, voting down that budget in an 855-581 vote on June 8 after unusually heavy polling activity.

The issues that separated the council and committee haven’t gone away, Conlogue said.

“Certainly there is widespread disagreement on the direction the schools needed to take,” he said. “We are still not out of those woods. This is kind of a Band-Aid budget compared to next year, where there will be significantly more challenges in the school budget.

“One of the very major factors, an unknown, is what will happen with state educational budget support. That’s a wild card,” he added.

Smith said he is working to hold a zero-growth budget through the next school year and develop more school revenue.

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