Lincoln-area schools face fourth budget vote

Posted Nov. 02, 2012, at 8 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 02, 2012, at 10:32 p.m.

Voters in Chester, Lincoln and Mattawamkeag will be asked Tuesday for the fourth time to decide whether to approve RSU 67’s proposed $12.19 million 2012-13 budget, which school officials say restores spending to 2009 levels.

The budget, school Superintendent Denise Hamlin said, is very lean and balances well the need for tight spending and fiscal control with the needs of students and staff.

As part of the budget, Chester taxpayers will pay $394,881; Lincoln, $2,480,794; and Mattawamkeag, $287,221. The $3.16 million commitment from the three towns represents a $74,425 increase from the amount taxpayers in those towns paid to the school system in the 2011-12 fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2012.

Outgoing RSU 67 Board of Directors Chairwoman Jackie Thurlow said she blamed the leadership of a small group of residents for the budget’s rejection three times. Thurlow urged voters to pass the budget on Tuesday.

“I think now it is because of this group. People are coming to me and they feel that all this controversy is getting out of hand,” said Thurlow, who will retire from the school board effective Tuesday.

The group — Phyllis Aiken, Mary Mallett Bies, Tonya McLaughlin and Dolly Phillips — said rejecting the proposed $12.19 million budget would be a vote of no-confidence in Hamlin. The group has placed about a dozen “Vote No” signs around the school district. Mallett Bies estimated that her group speaks for more than 100 people who she said are afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation.

Several “Vote Yes” signs have been posted around Lincoln this week in response.

Hamlin said that another rejection of the budget would probably just result in an increase in the budget of $13,000. That’s about the amount it costs to hold another election. Group members said the board’s inability to listen to their concerns, and a lack of trust in Hamlin’s leadership, is causing the election repeats.

The group disagrees with a board plan to revitalize the Dr. Carl Troutt School in Millinocket by buying it for $1 from the town and spending as much as $800,000 on the school to fully repair it. Group members called the building obsolete and said they support an earlier school administration decision to close the school.

Revitalizing Troutt would carry an initial cost of only $61,000 to upgrade the gymnasium and four classrooms that would be used by the Carleton Project, RSU 67’s high school dropout prevention program, Hamlin and Thurlow said.

It would also allow the school system to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in state aid annually by attracting students from outside the district. Troutt could also house other social service and educational aid programs, Hamlin said.

The building, Hamlin said, would be self-sustaining and funds to pay for renovations could come from the district’s undesignated fund balance or other accounts’ leftovers, thereby adding no extra burden to taxpayers.

Lincoln Town Clerk Shelly Crosby said she expects voter turnout on Tuesday to be substantial.

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