It took five tries and arrived more than six months late, but voters in Chester, Lincoln and Mattawamkeag passed a school budget on Thursday night.
Unofficial totals showed that Lincoln residents passed the $12.1 million 2012-13 budget with a 177-171 vote. Chester residents approved it, 31-24, while Mattawamkeag voters endorsed it by the largest margin, 38-8.
With the budget passed, members of the RSU 67 board of directors can begin to tackle other school unit problems, new RSU 67 school board Chairwoman Rebecca Hanscom said.
“I am thankful for the voters who passed this but I am not pleased with our district being in such disarray,” Hanscom said. “I am not pleased with our district residents feeling unheard” by board leadership and school administrators.
“I know this is tedious, being the fifth time there was a vote. I am thankful now that it is time for the board to get to work,” she added. “We have to work on our communications and start to rebuild the trust that is damaged.”
Several residents who spoke at public meetings after the fourth referendum on Nov. 6 cited a lack of trust in the board and Superintendent Denise Hamlin. Budgets typically pass by July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.
Some teachers and residents have complained that the board and Hamlin had a top-down management style that alienated teachers, stifled fair criticism and targeted critics within the system. Hamlin has disagreed, saying she was following board guidelines and is constrained by confidentiality requirements from discussing personnel issues.
The teachers and residents pointed to a settlement of a prohibitive practice claim and an arbiter’s decision in November overturning an Ella P. Burr School teacher’s suspension as examples of misfires on Hamlin’s part.
Hamlin and several board members have said that Hamlin was following board directives and had board approval of her actions. Hamlin was working to streamline school budgets and improve efficiency ― a process they described as successful, given that the passed budget is about $100,000 below 2009 spending levels. Hamlin’s critics challenge that assertion.
Until the fourth vote, the board’s leadership blamed a small group of residents and former school employees for much of the controversy.
That vote, held on Election Day, featured the largest turnout of the five. In it, voters rejected the budget by a combined vote of 1,886 to 997 in unofficial totals. Lincoln and Chester voted against the budget. Mattawamkeag passed it by a single tally, 181-180. Chester and Lincoln voters rejected reopening Carl Troutt School in Mattawamkeag, which that town’s voters supported.
Hanscom said that with Thursday’s election carried in two towns by margins of 7 and 6 votes, respectively, “I don’t want to second-guess what this means.”
“The board needs to come together and start doing the work that our district deserves,” she added. “Keep in mind, we are only about four months from another budget vote, and I don’t want to be in this situation again.”