BELFAST, Maine — RSU 20 Superintendent Bruce Mailloux said Thursday that it would be hard to imagine a more difficult budget year for the cash-strapped and contentious Waldo County school district.
But after a crowd of about 100 people agreed Tuesday evening to the proposed $33.3 million budget for the next school year, it’s all over but the validation.
That process will take place on Tuesday, June 12, at municipal polling places in Belfast, Belmont, Frankfort, Morrill, Northport, Searsmont, Searsport, Stockton Springs and Swanville.
However, validating the budget might not be a sure thing, said Swanville Selectman Brian Thompson. His is one of the communities that will see school taxes jump considerably if the budget is passed.
“The town is very stingy when it comes to taxes,” he said. “I don’t know whether the town will approve the budget, to tell the truth.”
As the budget is written now, taxes for schools would go up by $122,508 in Swanville, a 12 percent increase. They would jump by $387,697 in Northport, a 17 percent increase, and by $714,368 in Belfast, a 9.5 percent increase.
Only the three towns of the former SAD 56 — Searsport, Stockton Springs and Frankfort — would see local assessments for schools decrease.
“This has been a very challenging year with a difficult budget situation, as well as efforts to have communities withdraw from the RSU,” Mailloux wrote in a letter distributed to RSU 20 taxpayers before this week’s budget meeting. “The future RSU may look different, but for now, I feel your administration and board are presenting a reasonable budget for your consideration.”
The budget for the next school year shows a 1.3 percent, or $600,000, increase over this year’s budget.
Mailloux said that the RSU 20 board arrived at the final figures after months of deliberations and “difficult, emotional decisions.”
The school district was in a pinch especially because of a net federal and state revenue loss of $756,552, he said.
One cost-cutting measure that the board adopted was the elimination of two classroom positions. Stockton Springs Elementary School fifth-graders will be bused to Searsport Elementary School and third-graders at the Edna Drinkwater Elementary School in Northport will be taken to Captain Albert Stevens Elementary School in Belfast.
Because of staff retirements, the affected teachers will be able to move into vacant positions in the district, Mailloux said. He did not name the teachers.
According to the superintendent, there are two reasons why some communities had school tax increases and others did not.
The first is that if the state of Maine determines that a community’s property tax valuation has increased, the state’s support for education will go down.
The second reason is more complicated and has to do with the way that the two former SADs merged to become a consolidated district.
The state determines a monetary formula by which a district ought to be able to effectively educate students and the former SAD 56 exceeded that amount by a greater amount than the former SAD 34.
“We essentially maintained the percentages in effect the year before consolidation,” Mailloux said. “You were allowed to do that for three years.”
Although he said that the district has worked to reduce the difference from more than a million dollars to $600,000, the former SAD 34 communities still need to pay more in the next fiscal year.