DENNYSVILLE, Maine — It was clear Monday night that unfamiliarity with school budget laws and process confused many voters at a special town meeting on the AOS 77 proposed budget.
Forty voters took an hour and a half to approve the first 13 articles, which were all required costs under state law. Five of those articles appropriated zero funds. Residents, however, questioned several items that usually are discussed at budget hearings. In the end, however, voters passed all but one of 19 articles. The final budget tally represented a decrease of $61,654 in school costs over last year.
One article, to replace school board member Brenda Seavey, was tabled until next March as she has decided to remain on the board until then.
Last year, the budget for Dennysville’s 53.5 students was $640,930. (The half accounts for a student or students who moved in or out of the community during the school year.)
Dennysville does not have its own school and instead sends its students to Pembroke Elementary School, Edmunds Consolidated School, Washington Academy in East Machias, Shead High School in Eastport and Cobscook Community Learning Center in Trescott.
This year’s expenditures totaled $579,276. Kathryn Mahar of AOS 77 explained that several factors affected the bottom line, including a lower student enrollment, a larger amount taken from surplus funds, a larger Medicaid reimbursement, an increased state valuation, $76,979 less in state subsidy, and $61,000 in cuts made by the school board.
Areas that decreased in cost were regular education, special education and system administration.
One budget practice was particularly criticized by voters. Each year, the AOS 77 board includes extra students in its tuition estimates to hedge against students moving into town during the school year. Traditionally, two students at each school are phantoms — they do not exist but are counted toward overall tuition costs. Each students’ tuition is estimated at $7,066. Some voters wanted to cut that amount in half, feeling they were raising taxes unnecessarily. Others felt it was a “pay now or pay later” scenario that didn’t require changing.
Mahar explained that some years the town went well over that built-in buffer, adding five or more students. This year’s enrollment is estimated at 47.5 students. She said that any funding leftover in the tuition account is used to lower the town’s share the following year.
Voters also approved leasing the Lincoln Memorial Library to the library trustees for $1 so the group can seek grants as a non-profit entity. The building has a very active children’s program, Selectman William Attick explained, but not enough room or a bathroom. Grants will be sought for an expansion and bathroom facilities.
Voters amended the proposed lease from 40 years to 15 years.
They also approved taking $3,371.46 from the town’s fire alarm account to help the Dennysville Fire Department purchase 7 defibrillators for use at local schools, offices and to keep on one of the fire engines. Residents also OK’d using $3,300 left over from the bicentennial fund to reimburse the general fund for paving Foster Lane.