Residents add $343,000 to Rockland-area school budget

St. George Select Board Chair Bill Reinhardt lobbied successfully Wednesday night to have district residents add $343,162 to the proposed Regional School Unit 13 budget.
St. George Select Board Chair Bill Reinhardt lobbied successfully Wednesday night to have district residents add $343,162 to the proposed Regional School Unit 13 budget. Buy Photo
Posted July 24, 2013, at 10:12 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — The overwhelming number of people who turned out Wednesday night for Regional School Unit 13’s districtwide budget meeting voted to add $343,162 back into the proposed 2013-2014 spending package.

The proposal was made to save several teaching positions that are on the chopping block.

But the proposal, if ratified by voters at the polls on Tuesday, Aug. 13, will mean that Rockland and Owls Head will have to raise more property taxes.

More than 100 people turned out for the second district meeting of the year, following rejection of the original budget at the polls on June 11 by a 332-320 tally.

St. George Select Board Chairman Bill Reinhardt made the motion to add the $343,162 to the instructional line of the budget, an amount equal to the additional state money RSU 13 learned it would receive after the defeat of the original budget.

Those in favor of adding to the budget pointed out that it could preserve both an arts teacher and a social studies teacher at Oceanside High School East.

“Now that we have the extra state aid, it’s hard to understand why we would not put the teacher positions back in,” said recent graduate Elizabeth Lombardo.

Teacher Richard Johnson said Rockland has become a premier cultural center for Maine. He said cutting an arts teacher position at the high school would hurt the program.

Superintendent Lew Collins said Rockland has a strong arts and drama program and the elimination of one art teacher would not change that status.

Rockland City Councilor Larry Pritchett said he has spoken to many art gallery owners who say they cannot afford any more property taxes. Rockland and Owls Head will be picking up the overwhelming percentage of the money added Wednesday night due to the district’s formula for distributing costs within the six communities.

“Remember, Rockland is the poorest town in the district. You are asking the people least able to pay, to pay more,” Pritchett said.

St. George school board member Sherman Hoyt said his main role as a board member is to advocate for education. He said he will consider the impact on taxpayers, but education is the first priority.

Teacher Donald Pietroski asked the superintendent whether he would add the positions back that are proposed for elimination. He acknowledged that by law the board and administration have the final say on that matter.

Superintendent Collins said he would reserve comment on that decision until after the Aug. 13 referendum. On that day, registered voters of Rockland, Thomaston, St. George, Owls Head, South Thomaston and Cushing can go to the polls in their towns to vote yes or no on the amount approved Wednesday night.

The overall budget was approved at $27,226,724, up about 2 percent from the approved 2012-2013 budget.

Rockland will be required to pay an additional $122,088 to RSU 13 under the new budget if it is ratified on Aug. 13, nearly a 2 percent increase. Owls Head will have to pay $152,709 more, a 6 percent increase. South Thomaston will pay $36,573 more, or 1.5 percent. Cushing will see almost no change.

Thomaston will pay $18,744 less in property taxes for RSU 13 while St. George will pay $31,401 less under the recommended budget.

Last week, the Rockland City Council voted to cut four positions and reduce two others to part-time in order to prevent a property tax increase.

Collins said if the budget is rejected at the polls on Aug. 13, the process starts again, with the board adjusting the budget, another districtwide meeting and another yes or no referendum.

Of the approximately 110 people who turned out Wednesday night, 57 were from St. George.

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