LINCOLN, Maine — RSU 67 school board members will try for the fifth time to pass a budget next month after Lincoln Lakes region residents approved changes to the $12.13 million proposal.
Rebecca Hanscom, the new and returning chairwoman of the board of directors, said Sunday that she respects that many residents still have trust issues with the system’s leadership that might prevent their voting for the budget during the special district-wide referendum on Jan. 10. The regional school unit serves Chester, Lincoln and Mattawamkeag.
The irony, Hanscom said, is that the board cannot really address those trust issues until the budget passes.
“We have to move this budget forward so that we can move onto other things. This has got to be the first and foremost thing right now, getting the budget passed,” Hanscom said. “We are still committed to taking care of the other problems.”
“Give us some time to do this. We can’t get working on the issues until we get this budget passed,” she added.
Residents from the district voted to cut about $57,000 from the budget during a town meeting Tuesday at Mattanawcook Academy. The cuts included about $16,000 from the administration’s salary and expense lines and another $41,000 from the district’s maintenance accounts, Hanscom said.
In 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 voted against the budget. Mattawamkeag passed it, 181-180. Chester and Lincoln voters rejected reopening Carl Troutt School in Mattawamkeag, which that town’s voters supported.
The Maine Department of Education does not track budget rejections in school districts, but four is a high number, a department spokesman said.
Some critics say the four budget rejections stem from a widespread distrust of the leadership provided by the board and Superintendent Denise Hamlin. Some board members and Hamlin have said that the budget holds spending at 2009 levels after a half-dozen years in which budgets about doubled and that Hamlin’s leadership comes in response to goals the board set.
One critic, former RSU 67 educator Phyllis Aiken, doubted that she would vote for the budget despite being heartened by the election of Hanscom and other new and veteran board members to leadership positions last month.
“I want the budget to pass,” Aiken said. “I guess the only thing that I don’t want is Denise Hamlin to be the superintendent and that [voting against the budget] is the only road I can see to do anything about that.”
She said the budget passed on Tuesday “just because it was a step to go through” but also noted that she expected some will vote for the budget because they trust the new board leadership.
“Some are sold and some have hope that things will change, but I think a lot of us aren’t sold yet on whether Denise can change,” Aiken said. “I have a funny feeling more people will vote for it this time than last time.”
Hanscom said she hopes the budget will pass.
“We are very appreciative that we could get a consensus on a vote [on Tuesday], but we just hope that carries through to the polls,” she said, speaking for the school board.