May 21, 2018
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Newport-area school district to present lower budget to towns

Alex Barber | BDN
Alex Barber | BDN
Greg Potter
By Alex Barber, BDN Staff

NEWPORT, Maine — In what has become a regular occurrence for Regional School Unit 19, the district will once again bring a monetary request before voters, a similar version of which was previously rejected at the polls.

“We went back to the drawing board and looked at the numbers,” said Superintendent Gregory Potter.

On June 18, voters in eight towns in the district — Corinna, Dixmont, Etna, Hartland, Newport, Palmyra, Plymouth and St. Albans — rejected the $22.7 million budget for the 2013-14 school year by a vote of 457-400.

A $3.8 million stabilization loan took three tries to pass late last year and this spring.

Because the Legislature overrode Gov. Paul LePage’s state budget veto on June 26, there is additional funding to support the schools, explained Potter.

“RSU 19’s share is $141,800 more than we estimated we would receive,” he said.

The recommendation to the school board would also be to reduce the budget by $50,000, due to changes in workers’ compensation rates, Potter said. There has been a reduction in workplace injuries due to improved safety procedures, he said.

Because the state is now providing the district with $141,800 more than expected, plus the $50,000 in reductions to the budget, local shares paid by towns will be reduced by nearly $200,000.

“What we’re basically looking at is [providing] about $191,800 in additional savings to the towns [as compared to the first attempt],” Potter said. “The state takes a higher share [of expense] and the locals get a lower share.”

The proposed new budget would be $22,650,503, said Potter. That number will need to be confirmed by the board after finalizing proposed expenditures, RSU 19 Business Manager Jerry Nault said.

Potter presented his recommendations to the finance committee on Tuesday evening. Those recommendations will be brought before the board of directors at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 16 at Nokomis Regional High School in Newport.

One of the recommendations is applying $55,000 in the savings to give a 2.5 percent raise to 42 non-union employees in the district.

Potter said the district has needs for literacy and math support. The board may add funding for those programs that could affect the final budget figure.

There won’t be any additional staff or program cuts in the new budget, Potter said.

“I’m optimistic [that the budget will pass on the second attempt],” he said.

If the board of directors approves the budget on July 16, it will be brought before registered voters in a district-wide meeting to approve the numbers. That meeting will likely be on Wednesday, July 31 at the high school, said Potter. If it passes during that meeting, the figure will go to the referendum ballot vote, which will likely be on Tuesday, August 20. The board will adopt the dates at next week’s meeting.

Yet Potter admitted that low voter turnout is a concern.

“It’s in our interest to get the word out and make sure voters are encouraged to participate,” he said.

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