Lincoln schools to try for fifth budget

Posted Nov. 15, 2012, at 7:37 p.m.

LINCOLN, Maine – The RSU 67 board of directors has agreed to submit a school budget to voters in Chester, Lincoln and Mattawamkeag for a fifth time.

During a meeting Wednesday, board members expressed frustration at voters’ rejection of the proposed $12.19 million 2012-13 budget on Election Day. They agreed to meet Nov. 20 to restart the budget process.

New interim Chairman Regginal Adams acknowledged that some believe the budget’s four failures signal a lack of confidence in Superintendent Denise Hamlin’s leadership, but said he doesn’t know how to read the votes.

“We are going to give it the very best shot that we can,” Adams said.

With the largest turnout of the four elections, voters rejected the budget by a combined vote of 1,886 to 997 in unofficial totals on Nov. 6. Lincoln and Chester rejected the budget. Mattawamkeag passed it, 181-180. Chester and Lincoln voters rejected reopening Carl Troutt School of Mattawamkeag, which that town’s voters supported.

No Maine Department of Education officials track budget failures, but four is a high number, spokesman David Connerty-Marin said Thursday.

The state has no role to play in such issues, Connerty-Marin said, implying that elections will just have to keep occurring. Under state law, school systems are funded under the previous year’s budget until a new budget is adopted, board members said.

Hamlin, who has defended the budget as achieving goals set for her by the board, wanted to hold a fifth election on Dec. 18, but Lincoln interim Town Manager William Lawrence balked, Treasurer Gilberte Mayo said.

Mayo said that would be a busy time for town workers who are collecting property taxes, among other things. Hamlin said she was unaware that the date was problematic. The school board’s attorney advised that the election must be held by about that time to conform to state law, but Mayo disagreed.

Board members should spend as much time as possible crafting a budget “that represents what voters have implied to us,” board member Debra Tardy said. “We need to show good will.”

“We have done public budget meeting after budget meeting” with the same numbers, Hamlin said. “I am wondering what is it that is in this budget, which is below 2009 expenditure levels, that is not understood. It has been a whole year.”

Board member David Edwards wanted the entire budget set before the board, not the board’s finance committee, with public input via public hearings. Board member John Trask said the committee and public meetings would suffice.

Distortions and disinformation might account for the budget’s repeated failure, Trask and Hamlin said.

Many residents apparently believed that money was budgeted for Troutt School before voters cast their ballots, Hamlin said, but officials merely locked in a heating oil price for the school. No money was allocated or earmarked for Troutt’s reopening, she said.

“Both sides need to come together,” Trask said, calling the controversy “a trust issue,” something that “has nothing to do with the numbers.”

Hamlin, Trask said, shaped the budget according to board directives. The budget doubled in size in nine years, which was “too much for this community to handle,” he said.

“We have been able to reduce the budget and keep things where they needed to be,” Trask said, adding that taxpayers deserve as much consideration as anyone.

Newly elected board member Dolly Phillips said she would discuss her concerns in a closed-door meeting with the board’s attorney on Nov. 28. She is among those who said a vote against the budget is a no-confidence vote in Hamlin.

Board members promised to cut $10,000 from the budget. That’s the approximate cost, they said, of another election.

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