BELFAST, Maine — Last summer, a battle over the budget raged for months in RSU 20, with antagonistic factions staking claims over the pros and cons of personnel and program cuts.
The budget failed twice at referendum vote before voters finally mustered the resolve to pass a $33.39 million plan that resulted in the communities having to raise an additional 10 percent in property taxes to support their schools.
This year, the board of directors in the eight-town district and Superintendent Brian Carpenter are trying a different strategy as the $35.5 million budget starts to make its way through the system. It reflects an increase of about 6.5 percent over the last budget.
“We’re going to put it out without cutting anything,” Carpenter said Tuesday of the proposed budget. “We ask people to study the budget. Come up with ideas and recommendations. Then support the budget, because this is what we need to operate. If not, we’ll have to cut programs and staffing.”
The directors approved the proposed budget at the end of April, though directors Christopher Hyk of Belfast and Debra Riley of Northport both voted against it. The district also includes the communities of Belmont, Morrill, Searsmont, Searsport, Stockton Springs and Montville.
Carpenter said that the proposed budget for the next school year would cause another increase in tax assessments for schools — this time 7.3 percent for the communities, on average. It includes funds to pay for a nearly 10 percent increase in health insurance premiums and a 6.5 percent increase in property insurance. It does include reductions of about $421,000, after cutting money from the contingency fund and continuing a single bus run for students in Stockton Springs and Searsport.
Last summer’s budgetary back-and-forth, as voters vacillated between making dramatic cuts to personnel and programs and putting all the money and more back in, was trying for the administrators, Carpenter said.
“You saw what special interest groups could do. And there was some politics, too,” he said. “It’s interesting, because people want the programs and the education. They don’t want to pay for it. It’s like the saying — people want to go to heaven, but they don’t want to have to die.”
The school district is also struggling with decreasing numbers of students. Next year, 2,372 students are expected to attend the district’s schools — down about 100 from this year.
Carpenter said that he would like people concerned about the cost of education to direct their questions to Augusta. The state has never met its voter-mandated mark of funding 55 percent of education. In RSU 20, the state funds a little less than 40 percent of the costs of education.
“If you want the programs and the education, you have to pay for it, because the state’s not,” he said.
Voters in the district are urged to look at the budget, which is available both online and at the superintendent’s office, before coming to the public hearing on the proposed budget that has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, May 29, at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast.
The budget can be accessed on the district’s website at www.rsu20.org/home/budget-news.