NEWPORT, Maine — It took four tries, but the Regional School Unit 19’s board of directors passed a measure to bring a $2.8 million loan to voters of the district.
During a meeting at Nokomis Regional High School on Wednesday night, the board passed the measure 12 to 4 after failing to agree on what the loan attempt would look like during three previous proposals.
The loan will come with provisions on the ballot. The board will come up with conditions to liquidate assets to put toward the principal.
Superintendent Greg Potter suggested during a previous meeting that the superintendent’s office in Newport could be sold and may fetch as much as $350,000. The district office could then be moved to St. Albans Consolidated School while moving grades 2, 3 and 4 to Corinna Elementary School and Hartland Consolidated School.
A loan is being sought to help the district address a $3.6 million budget shortfall caused by serious errors in previous budgets — including the fact that member towns were not billed for their obligations to the school district. The district already has cut $1.6 million from the budget for this school year.
Several members of the audience that numbered about 75, offered their opinion on the subject.
“The facts of the matter are, we have these debts to pay, and we need to pay them, and we need to take that responsibility to show our children and everyone else that we’re able to do that and are willing to do it,” said Brent Mullis of Corinna. “My thought is, if we’re in a situation where we need to pay $2.9 million, we need to bite the bullet and pay it.”
Some members of the board of directors said they could not bring the same $2.9 million figure back to the voters because it had already been voted down.
“I’m not comfortable with $2.9 [million] again, because the public has spoken,” said Patricia Gallison of St. Albans. “The comment I’ve heard in my town is that it feels like a slap in the face to people. They’ve already voted it down, let’s bring back a different number.”
There was discussion about breaking up the loan in two separate parts — the first to repay the $1.5 million revenue anticipation note to Androscoggin Bank, and the other half to pay off other debts.
A $2.5 million loan broken into two parts was defeated 12 to 4; a $2.5 million loan with the same provisions that eventually passed was defeated 10 to 6; and a $2.9 million loan without provisions was also defeated 11 to 5.
A one-month districtwide shutdown was not on the evening’s agenda, and therefore, wasn’t voted on.
Potter proposed a districtwide winter shutdown comprised of 18 student school days if the loan is not passed by voters. The move would allow the district to better manage its cash flow, he said.
“If you have a hiatus, essentially there will be certain categories of support staff folks — drivers, school-year employees, hourlies, food service workers, those kinds of folks — that aren’t going to be getting a payroll during the shutdown,” Potter said last week. “They’ll be working their days in the summer. It will allow us to pay our bills and get caught up with a number of vendors and it will allow us to manage our cash flow because this is an emergency. It still is. It hasn’t changed because the public said no to the loan. We’re still in it. We’re in the thick of it. It isn’t getting any better unless we take some measures.”
The proposed shutdown would begin March 15 and end April 15. April vacation would be canceled. Instead, four student days would be added to that week.
“That kind of disruption is really going to affect [students] greatly,” said one member of the committee Tuesday. “It’s not going to be easy to get caught up.”
“I’m not convinced that it’s a valid argument to say that learning is going to be harmed,” Potter said. “I think that it’s not a good thing that we’re taking a break, but it’s potentially a major inconvenience.”
The shutdown would move the last day of school to July 3, barring anymore snow days.
It’s unclear what that would mean for graduating seniors.
“I don’t feel that it’s right that seniors should graduate 18 days earlier than the rest of the [school],” said committee member Dan Costain. “That needs to be pushed back as well.”
The shutdown would be discussed at the next scheduled board of directors meeting on Feb. 12.