June 19, 2018
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Rockland-area school district faces major tax hike

By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

ROCKLAND, Maine — Local taxpayers will have to pay an additional $1.7 million to maintain the existing programs and staff in Regional School Unit 13 next year.

“These numbers are really bad. This is a huge increase,” said board member Brian Messing of Rockland at the board’s Feb. 2 meeting held at the McLain School.

Board member Donald Robishaw of Rockland noted that Rockland alone would be responsible for paying an added $846,000 in property taxes if no changes are made for 2012-2013. Rockland’s share of the RSU 13 budget is increasing even without an increase in the budget because of the formula approved by the district when the RSU was formed three years ago.

The regional school unit consists of Rockland, Thomaston, St. George, Owls Head, South Thomaston and Cushing.

Business Manager Scott Vaitones said RSU 13 was facing this financial situation for a variety of reasons. The district has seen its student enrollment decline 3 percent which will lead to decreased state and federal aid. The loss of a $425,000 federal stimulus grant also is aggravating the gap between revenues and expenditures.

Vaitones noted that 12 jobs in the district were paid for through the federal grant.

The district also is dealing with unbudgeted expenses in its special education department. The district projects it will spend $525,000 more in the current school year for special education than was included in the voter-approved 2011-2012 budget last June. The money has been spent on hiring six additional educational technicians, an additional teacher, additional tuition for outside programs, and more contracted services.

Anticipated pay and benefit increases also will add to the 2012-2013 budget. The labor contracts for teachers, for example, will increase salaries 2 percent along with step increases for years of services. The salary increases for all employees will amount to $200,000 in 2012-2013. Vaitones said if health insurance rises 5 percent that would amount to another $200,000 in added expenses.

Board member Tess Kilgour of Rockland said it was discouraging to keep dealing with budget problems.

“We’re looking for a miracle again,” she said.

The 2011-2012 budget approved by the voters eliminated six teaching positions. The previous school year, the budget eliminated 21 teaching positions, 25 support staff jobs and 24 stipend positions.

The board voted unanimously at its Feb. 2 meeting to have the administration return with a budget that does not increase the amount of local property taxes districtwide by more than 4 percent. If the local communities need to raise an additional $1.7 million, that amounts to 6 percent.

The administration will present its budget to the board in late March. The administration is reviewing the special education program to see whether it can be run more efficiently and reduce costs.

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