EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — About 95 residents approved town and school budgets, usually by large margins, during a town meeting on Tuesday night.
The Board of Selectmen, East Millinocket School Committee and meeting moderator John Farrington moved the voting briskly through 61 warrant articles detailing the $2.70 million municipal and $4.4 million school budgets for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Selectmen’s board Chairman Clint Linscott said that it was difficult to assess the budgets’ impact with the state budget still unfinished, but estimated that the mill rate would rise from 23.3 mills to about 31 mills. That would mean owners of $50,000 properties would see their taxes rise from $1,165 to $1,600. The mill rate is typically set in the fall.
A few votes were close and one article, allocating $261,736 to pay the schools’ administrative staff, was rejected 47-42. The selectmen’s budget committee recommended against its passage.
“I think we have way too many people in administration,” committee member Tina Dionne said during the meeting.
But Selectman Mark Marston, the committee’s chairman, opted not to recommend a lesser amount, saying that he felt that was the school board’s job. School board Chairman Dan Byron recommended spending $250,000 on that account, which passed by a large margin.
Several residents disliked installing a new principal and a dean of students at Schenck High School to help that principal with disciplinary matters in September.
Resident Melissa Doyle said she recalled school officials promising to eliminate one of the town’s two principals positions when the Opal Myrick School building was closed two years ago and that school’s population moved into the Schenck building.
“‘Dean of Students’ is just another name for ‘principal,’” Doyle said.
Another resident recalled that when she went to Schenck, one class she took had 38 students and one teacher. Thirty-three seniors graduated Schenck this spring, with 49 teachers in the entire school system.
The town’s population has dropped from 2,557 in the 1970 census to 1,723 in 2010. East Millinocket’s projected student population in September is 209 students, the lowest in town history.
Population predictions compiled by state officials and available at maine.gov show East Millinocket’s population falling to 1,617 in two years, to 1,525 in 2020 and to 1,430 by 2025.
Linscott and Marston complained that the school budget has risen by more than $1 million over the last few years. The budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which lapses June 30, is $4.17 million. The previous year it was $3.2 million. In 2009-10, town schools had a $3.76 million budget, and the following year, a $3.64 million budget.
Superintendent Quenten Clark said the school board is hamstrung by unfunded mandates — state education requirements that state government doesn’t fund. Those continually drive up costs and force administrators to retain administrative posts, he said.
Another big driver: tuition payments to Medway, Clark said. He said a more accurate estimate of the school budget’s increases would be about $600,000 over the last two years. Medway tuition payments account for about a third of that net increase, he said.
A town referendum on the budgets is set for Thursday, officials said.