ROCKLAND, Maine — The Rockland City Council voted Monday night to oppose the proposed Regional School Unit 13 budget that goes before district residents next week for a second referendum.
The vote was 4-1 with Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson voting against the resolve adopted by the council to oppose the school budget.
The original $27 million budget failed June 11 at the polls 320-332.
Last month, attendees of an RSU 13 districtwide meeting — led by St. George residents — added $ 343,162 to the proposed 2013-14 budget in an effort to restore several teaching positions that had been eliminated in the original budget proposal. The new $27.2 million budget — a nearly 3 percent increase — will go to voters at the polls in the six RSU 13 communities on Tuesday, Aug. 13.
Rockland City Councilor Larry Pritchett, who spoke out against the increase at the July 24 meeting, sponsored Monday night’s resolve that states the council’s opposition to the budget. The resolve also directs the city manager to take all steps necessary to inform the Rockland public about the “negative impacts” of the proposed budget.
City Manager James Smith said after the vote that he expects to put something on the public access channel to remind the public about the Aug.13 referendum and to state the potential financial impact to Rockland.
RSU 13 consists of Rockland, Thomaston, St. George, Owls Head, South Thomaston and Cushing.
Pritchett stated that St. George residents knew when they lobbied successfully to get the added money in the budget that Rockland and other communities would be paying for the increase. Rockland would be paying $122,000 more in school taxes and Owls Head an additional $152,000 compared with last year if the proposed budget is approved. St. George would pay $31,000 less.
Rockland has seen its share of school district costs increase in 18 of the past 20 years for a total of 244 percent, Pritchett said.
“It is critical that RSU 13 provide a quality education at a cost that does not discourage future investments in homes and businesses, and does not place an unreasonable burden on working families, retired citizens on fixed incomes, or other Rockland residents,” the resolve states.
Pritchett said Sunday that there are times when education issues rise to the level of the City Council and that this is one of those times. He pointed out that the council had to cut positions and lay off employees in order to prevent this year’s municipal budget from causing a tax increase.
Mayor Will Clayton said the extra money RSU 13 received from the state after the failure of the original budget is tax dollars and should go back to them.
“There’s not a money mill where it’s printed in Augusta,” Clayton said.
He said that the communities in the district need to start speaking as we rather than as us and them.
Councilor Eric Hebert said the public needs to stop looking at education spending as only an expense but instead as an investment in economic development for the future.
“If we aren’t investing in our children, we are not investing in our future,” Hebert said.
But, he said, the council needs to send a message to the district that it needs to operate more efficiently.
Dickerson, who is a teacher in RSU 13, said the council should recognize that “affordable, quality education contributes to the vibrancy, quality of life and the potential for future economic development in Rockland.”
After the original budget was rejected at the polls, the district learned it would receive $343,000 more from the state than it had initially projected for 2013-14. There was disagreement within the district on whether that money should be used to reduce the property taxes to be raised or to retain the teaching positions that would otherwise be cut.
RSU 13 board chairwoman Esther “Tess” Kilgour said Monday morning that people who felt that the budget cut too much turned out in greater numbers than those who felt the budget was too great. She said if the budget is rejected at the polls next week, then people who want a reduced budget need to turn out for the third districtwide meeting that would be scheduled.
St. George Select Board chairman Bill Reinhardt said earlier Monday that he felt that the changes made at the districtwide meeting to add some money back in for teachers were a compromise. He said that Rockland would be paying less in property taxes from the current proposal than from the original budget that was defeated in June because of the increased state aid.
Reinhardt said the move by Rockland, of which he had not been aware, is short-sighted.
“We have different priorities,” he said.