$856,000 restored to Belfast-area school budget at emotional meeting

Posted May 30, 2013, at 10:30 p.m.
Last modified May 31, 2013, at 10:16 a.m.

BELFAST, Maine — Concerned parents and others who attended the Regional School Unit 20 budget meeting Thursday night voted to reinstate funds for art teachers, library ed techs, the school resource officer, school secretaries, middle school sports and more.

Attendees voted in favor of the budget additions at 11 p.m., with the final version of the proposed school budget set at $34,342,616.

Emotions were high during the long meeting, with hundreds of residents of the district’s eight towns packing the Troy Howard Middle School gym. By 10 p.m. voters had decided only six of 19 articles on the warrant, but the money they put back into the budget totaled about $856,000.

Current students, former students, teachers, pensioners, parents, school board members, town managers and others lined up for their turn at the microphone.

“I am going to suffer very much from this increase,” Amy Fradel of Belfast said. “Nevertheless, I’m still in favor of it. We’re arguing with the wrong people. We need to be arguing with state government. We need to be not sitting here talking. We need to be marching on Augusta.”

The school district had made cuts in the preliminary budget designed in part to offset funding reductions from the state and federal governments and from RSU 20′s loss this year of the town of Frankfort.

The budget recommended by the district’s directors added up to $33 million before the additions.

While a majority of attendees expressed concerns about the district’s education, others said they didn’t know how they would pay the increase in property taxes necessitated by the budget even before people voted to reinstate cut positions.

“I’ll have to rob a bank,” one man joked.

Richard Couch, town manager in Stockton Springs, said that RSU 20 costs accounted for nearly 75 percent of his town’s budget. Some residents are struggling to pay property taxes and he said he was being forced to evict three families later this summer who have lost their properties to foreclosure.

“Empty houses don’t pay taxes and don’t produce children,” he said. “I don’t want to be town manager in a ghost town.”

Had the budget passed as initially proposed, it would have raised local assessment for schools by 13 percent across the towns.

Those towns are Belfast, Belmont, Northport, Morrill, Northport, Searsmont, Searsport, Stockton Springs and Swanville.

Residents in the school district will be asked to approve the final budget figures at their municipal polls on Tuesday, June 11.

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Richard Couch as Searsport’s town manager. He is town manager of Stockton Springs.

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