ROCKLAND, Maine — Of the 17,000 who live in the communities of Regional School Unit 13, 55 residents turned out Tuesday night to approve a $26.5 million school budget that cuts some positions, adds other, and hikes property taxes.
The budget received the overwhelming support of those residents in attendance at the Oceanside High School East auditorium.
There was criticism, however, from those who voted against the proposed 2012-2013 budget, which will be ratified or rejected at the polls in the six communities on June 12.
“I’m one of the unrich retirees,” said Sharon Spaulding of Rockland.
She said one-third of her retirement benefits go to pay property taxes on a modest home.
“Taxes are going through the roof. Rockland taxpayers are having it put to us,” she said.
Ervin Curtis of South Thomaston said the steady increase in property taxes is due to the schools. He said the district needs to make tough decisions in regards to special education and student transportation costs.
Special education garnered the most discussion at the districtwide budget meeting. The proposed 2012-2013 special education budget totals $4.2 million, an increase of about $700,000 from the current budget.
William Reinhardt, chairman of the St. George Board of Selectmen, said the board needs to keep these costs down, which he said soon will exceed the costs of instruction for the remainder of the student population.
“This is a tremendous amount of money,” Reinhardt said.
RSU 13 board member Brian Messing of Rockland said a year earlier the district had tried to reduce costs by limiting placement of special need students in programs outside the district. He said those decisions were challenged and the district ended up having to pay for those outside placements at a cost of about $800,000 for eight to 10 students each year.
“The wild cards are the students who move into the district,” board member Tess Kilgour of Rockland said.
Board member Loren Andrews of Cushing noted there has been a significant increase in the number of students with autism and that requires extra services. He also pointed out that with the planned Many Flags, One Campus proposal there is an effort by school districts in the region to look at regional services to reduce placements outside the region.
One man stood up and asked whether the district was paying for services for any illegal aliens, to which interim Superintendent Neal Guyer said no.
The question prompted Andrews to respond.
“No student chose to have a disability,” the Cushing board member said.
The transportation budget also garnered some discussion with Curtis noting that years ago the bus runs were limited to the main roads and that students from side roads had to walk to the bus stops.
Business Manager Scott Vaitones said society has changed in that parents don’t want their 10-year-old children walking a quarter or a half mile. He said the district has looked at the transportation issue but there were no easy answers.
Three special education teaching positions and six special education technician positions are proposed for elimination in 2012-2013. Seven secretarial positions will have their hours reduced, one summer painting position will be cut and a custodian position will be reduced to half time.
The board also agreed to propose the creation of a half-time high school technology teacher, a half-time technology integrationist, a special education clinical supervisor, an elementary world language teacher, and a position to work with students to stay in school and make the transition to jobs.
The budget also includes pay increases for staff. The labor contract for teachers will increase their salaries by 2 percent and includes step increases for years of service. The combined pay increases for all employees added about $200,000 to the budget.
The proposed $26.5 million budget represents an increase of about 2 percent from the 2011-2012 budget. But the loss of $370,000 in state aid and $470,000 in federal stimulus money will require additional property tax money to cover the difference.
Rockland will see the largest increase, having to pay an additional $310,832. St. George would pay $133,562 more under the proposed budget, Thomaston an additional $127,801, Owls Head an extra $127,152, South Thomaston an additional $114,456, and Cushing $3,613 more.
Absentee ballots will be available starting Tuesday on the yes or no ratification of the budget to be done at the polls in Rockland, Thomaston, St. George, Owls Head, South Thomaston and Cushing.