Knox County school budgets win support of residents

Posted May 29, 2013, at 5:47 a.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Residents in the six-community school district that includes Rockland debated for more than two hours Tuesday evening before adopting a $27 million budget for 2013-2014 that will raise taxes and cut jobs.

The RSU 13 budget was approved despite an effort by some residents to cut more from the spending package, which now will go for ratification at the polls on June 11 in Rockland, Thomaston, St. George, Owls Head, South Thomaston and Cushing.

And in neighboring RSU 40 — made up of Waldoboro, Warren, Union, Friendship and Washington — the $22.2 million budget sailed through Tuesday evening with little opposition, according to board Chairman Danny Jackson.

Several residents criticized the RSU 13 budget but they were unable to muster a majority on any article to defeat the spending amounts recommended by the school board. The closest opponents came was a 29-17 vote on the amount of local dollars to be raised.

“I’m amazed and astounded by the amount of apathy for this kind of money,” said Rockland resident Steve Carroll.

Carroll said residents have had enough of increases in school spending.

He proposed a $500,000 cut in the $1.5 million school administration budget but that garnered only seven votes in support.

Board member Arvilla Collins of Thomaston said she understood the frustration of residents and she felt the same way when she was a member of the public but learned on the board that making significant cuts is not as easy as it looks.

Board Chairwoman Esther “Tess” Kilgour said that ships can’t be run without captains and schools cannot run without principals. Superintendent Lew Collins pointed out that the district is eliminating a half-time assistant principal position at Rockland District Middle School.

The superintendent also defended the transportation budget. He said the district is changing the starting times for school days so the middle and high school bus runs can be combined. That will result in middle and high school classes beginning a half hour later, at 8 a.m., while elementary schools will start a half-hour later, 9 a.m., beginning in the next school year.

The $27,017,562 budget represents a 2 percent increase but because of less state aid, the communities will need to raise about $500,000 more through property taxes. Rockland will pick up the largest share because of a change in the cost-sharing formula used by RSU 13.

The budget calls for several positions to be cut, including an art teacher, a social studies teacher and a resource room teacher, and the reduction of a technology teacher to half-time, all at Oceanside High School East. A social studies teaching position at Oceanside West in Thomaston is also up for elimination, as well as an interventionist teacher being reduced to half-time at Oceanside West. Three elementary classroom teachers would also be cut — two at the South School in Rockland and one at the St. George School.

If the budget is rejected at the polls on June 11, it would go back to the board for possible adjustments and then to another referendum in the summer.

In RSU 40, Chairman Jackson said there were questions by residents on some of the warrant articles but that each was approved overwhelmingly by the public as recommended by the board. The meeting lasted about 45 minutes and was attended by 60 to 70 residents, Jackson said.

The $22.2 million RSU 40 budget represents an increase of less than 1 percent.

The proposed budget cuts an occupational therapist. Those services will be provided by contracting with an outside provider.

RSU 40 also will hold its validation referendum on June 11.

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