Belfast-area school board adds positions back into budget

Brian Carpenter
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Posted July 02, 2013, at 10:58 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — The RSU 20 board of directors is hoping that the second time’s the charm after members voted Tuesday night at a special session in the central office in Belfast to recommend a $33.8 million budget for the next fiscal year to the district’s voters.

The move follows last month’s election, when residents of all eight of the district’s communities rejected a prior $34.3 million budget by a substantial margin. That vote followed an emotional budget meeting at the end of May in which residents voted to reinstate $856,000 that the school board previously had cut from the budget. Had that revised budget passed, it would have meant a 17.2 percent increase to local property tax assessments for the eight towns, which are Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Northport, Searsmont, Searsport, Stockton Springs and Swanville.

The latest recommended budget would mean an overall increase of 12.3 percent for tax assessments in the towns. Those figures range from a low of 9 percent in Stockton Springs to a high of 17.2 percent in Belmont.

One reason for the financial change is that state subsidies for education were increased by about $449,000 for the district. Also, costs were reduced by $52,000 after the recent resignation of the athletic director.

But Superintendent Brian Carpenter and the district’s directors also added money back into the budget: $100,000 for supplies, $41,000 for the school resource officer, $60,000 for an art teacher at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast, $30,000 for a half-time art teacher in the Searsport schools, $182,000 for 3½ library ed tech positions, $72,000 for stipends for middle school co-curricular and athletic positions, $60,000 for an elementary art teacher and $41,000 for more preschool services with Broadreach.

After some debate at the Tuesday night budget meeting, the directors also voted to add back funding for two secretarial positions, which adds up to $81,115.

Not everyone was in favor.

“I can’t lay this on the backs of my Searsmont fixed-income taxpayers,” Director Valerie Mank said. “I’m not going to do that. It’s wrong.”

An effort to cut the funding for the school resource officer position — again — also failed. Carpenter said that he had asked Belfast officials if the city could pay for that position but that he didn’t know yet what the answer would be.

After the meeting had concluded, he said that all of the district’s central office and special education office staff had received a raise. The raises added up to about $10,000, he said, but there was still an overall expenditures decrease in that area because of staff members who had retired and not been replaced.

“It’s based on extra duties they undertook,” he said.

The revised budget will be sent to the district’s lawyers before discussion Monday, July 22, at a public forum at Searsport District High School. The district’s voters will vote by ballot on the budget Tuesday, July 30.

“It’s up to the voters now,” Carpenter said. “When we go to the budget meeting, we’ll find out what they want to put in and take out.”

Each time the budget fails, it costs the district about $15,000 to do it again, he pointed out.

“If we do this two more times, we can hire a teacher,” Carpenter said.

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