Belfast-area residents send third school budget to referendum

Brian Carpenter
Abigail Curtis | BDN
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By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff
Posted Sept. 10, 2013, at 10:14 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — Residents of eight Waldo County towns will go to the polls next week to decide whether to adopt the third, shaved-down version of the Regional School Unit 20 budget.

More than 100 people turned out Tuesday night at the Troy Howard Middle School to approve the first phase of adopting a 2013-2014 budget, setting it at $33,389,902. This is less than 1 percent ($22,000) more than the 2012-2013 budget.

Decreases in state aid, however, will result in the district towns having to raise an additional 10 percent in property taxes to pay for the spending package.

The budget now goes to residents of Belfast, Belmont, Morrill, Northport, Searsmont, Searsport, Stockton Springs and Swanville on Tuesday, Sept. 17, at the polls in each of the communities.

Voters at the polls have shot down the budget twice this year — at the annual June referendum and then last month. The last budget proposal failed 956-417.

The budget that was adopted Tuesday night and now goes to the polls is $70,087 less than what had failed at the ballot boxes in July. But Superintendent Brian Carpenter said the package adds back a middle school art teacher, a school resource officer and two library ed techs.

The 15 budget articles were approved overwhelmingly at the Tuesday night meeting. The overall budget article was approved 100-12.

There were critics of the budget, however.

David Marceau of Searsmont said he cannot understand how the board and superintendent are baffled by rejection of the budgets they develop. He said it could not be clearer that the citizens want them to reduce the budget.

“Anyone who does not understand why must be living under a rock,” Marceau said.

He said the 10 percent tax increase to the eight district communities was unacceptable.

Retired teacher David Smith of Belfast said the root cause of the tax increase was the reduction in state aid and that people need to go to the Legislature to demand a change.

“I’m sick and tired of the lack of commitment to the students,” he said.

The superintendent urged the public to approve the budget at the polls so that there would be certainty for the students and staff and so that the towns can send out their tax bills.

Carpenter said the only way the district would eliminate a tax increase would be to cut 16 more teaching positions and that was not acceptable.

The current budget eliminates 4.5 teaching positions that had been in place last year and has two fewer support staff positions and 1.5 fewer library technician positions. It also eliminates middle school after-school activities.

If the budget is rejected next week, the district would operate on the budget that was supported Tuesday night until another districtwide meeting and a fourth referendum are held.

Last month, Jim Rier of the Maine Department of Education said that RSU 20 and the Auburn School Department were the only two districts out of the state’s 220 that had budgets fail twice this summer. He also said that four or five districts statewide still have no set school budget.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/09/10/news/midcoast/belfast-area-residents-send-third-school-budget-to-referendum/ printed on December 17, 2014