EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Town voters rejected a proposed $4.39 million school budget Thursday and reaffirmed their desire for an electoral process that allows the privacy of a voting booth, officials said.
Unofficial tallies compiled by Town Clerk Erica Ingalls showed that the budget failed to pass by a 283-133 margin. Residents approved three more years of validation votes held after the annual town meeting, 286 votes to 132, the totals showed.
The election drew about 30 percent of the town’s 1,354 registered voters, a strong showing considering that the election happened in summertime, officials said.
School board Chairman Dan Byron did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Thursday night. Clint Linscott, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said he was pleased with both votes.
“There were enough citizens that believe that the budget has to go down that we should start listening to them,” Linscott said Thursday. “I would like to have seen it go down by $600,000 and I honestly thought they [school board members] would come in with a budget that was $250,000 less.”
The school board’s proposed budget was about $237,787 more than the budget for this fiscal year, which ends June 30. It increased due to several fixed costs despite some significant cuts, including the elimination of a technology teacher’s position at Schenck High School, Superintendent Quenten Clark has said.
Those costs include a 13 percent increase in the East Millinocket School Department’s health insurance and about $109,000 in increased special education fees, Clark said.
Voters who reaffirmed the school budget during a town meeting on Tuesday rejected the budget’s administrative costs line. They took Byron’s recommendation and cut it by about $11,000 before approving it. About 95 people attended Tuesday’s vote.
Thursday’s vote, Linscott said, shows that voters understand that years of budget cutting and declines in state revenues, local population and economy have accumulated to the point where something has to give.
School leaders “have to find some set amount of money less than what they want now, and restructure the system to keep the school,” Linscott said.
According to budget documents provided by the school, since the 2011-12 fiscal year, school spending has increased from $3.2 million to the proposed $4.4 million. The budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which lapses June 30, is $4.17 million.
However, Opal Myrick Elementary and Schenck High schools merged and the Opal Myrick building closed in September 2011 as a cost-cutting measure. In 2009-10, town schools had a $3.76 million budget, and the following year, a $3.64 million budget, the documents show.
Clark said that unfunded state mandates and some other drivers were responsible for the budget increases. Linscott said that the schools’ budget has increased a million over the last two years; a more accurate figure, Clark said, is about $600,000.
The budget process will restart thanks to Thursday’s vote. Residents will also have to vote next month on whether to repair the roof and some other items at Schenck for $1.87 million.