EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Residents approved the school system’s proposed $4.2 million budget by a comfortable margin during a validation vote on Thursday.
Town Clerk Erica Ingalls verified that 226 residents voted in favor of the budget and 178 opposed. The turnout, she said, was strong considering the time of year. The town has 1,350 registered voters, she said.
School board Chairman Daniel Byron and Clint Linscott, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said they hoped that next year’s budget would be easier to resolve.
“I am just glad it is behind us and we can start to move on,” Byron said Thursday. “If we have to keep making significant cuts every year, we are not going to have a lot of money left over to educate our children.”
The new budget, Superintendent Quenten Clark has said, is about $6,500 below the school budget for the previous year.
The East Millinocket School Committee cut $231,422 from the $4.4 million budget that voters rejected 283-133 in a validation referendum on June 27. East Millinocket voters attending an earlier town meeting had strongly supported that budget.
Fearing significant tax increases, selectmen had encouraged the cuts for several months, especially when Gov. Paul LePage proposed to cut all municipal revenue sharing for two years.
“I would like to keep it [the school budget] declining instead of having it continue to go up,” Linscott said. “We have to keep cutting to save our schools. If it [the school budget] continues to go up, and the school population continues to decline, we are eventually going to lose our schools.”
As part of saving $141,713, board members opted to cut a full-time secretary’s position in the Schenck High School principal’s office and cut to half time four other full-time positions — Schenck High’s guidance department director, Spanish and special education teachers’ slots, and a library education tech’s post, according to a list officials compiled.
Under the new budget, students who would have been taught Spanish by the teacher in the cut position will learn the language from Rosetta Stone, a popular computer-based program.
The rest of the cuts include a roof renovation bond payment of $36,665, and several furniture and supply accounts totaling $64,171. Schools also received an additional $25,538 in subsidies from the state, according to the list.
Items restored to the budget include the show choir that Schenck High and Stearns High School of Millinocket students participate in and junior varsity baseball, basketball and softball coaching positions, Clark has said.
With the budget issue settled, school board members and residents can turn to another issue that has proven turbulent — whether to replace the high school’s roof.
One significant piece of good news with that: the family of a Florida woman and town native who won the largest Powerball jackpot in history has promised to donate $2 million toward that project, school officials have said. Linscott said he believed some residents voted in favor of the second budget because they feared losing the donation if the budget failed.
School starts in about three weeks, Clark has said.